Sunbeds and cancer

Sunbeds give out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage your skin and can make it look wrinkled, older or leathery. The UV rays from sunbeds can also damage the DNA in your skin cells, and over time this damage can build up to cause skin cancer.

Sunbeds can sometimes be marketed as a ‘controlled way’ of getting a ‘safer tan’. But actually, sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun itself. And using a sunbed before you go on holiday doesn’t protect against further damage from the sun while you’re away. One study found that the average skin cancer risk from sunbeds can be more than double that of spending the same length of time in the Mediterranean midday summer sun.

IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) agrees there is sufficient evidence to show that using sunbeds causes melanoma skin cancer, the most serious form. They also state that sunbeds provide no positive health benefits. Combining the results of studies on sunbeds and cancer shows that using a sunbed increases melanoma risk by 16-20%.

Skin Beauty Tips For Summer Sun | Cancer Research UK

Sunbed use: The facts

1. Sunbed tanning is no safer than sun tanning

Sunbeds are not a 'safe' alternative to sun tanning. The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to UV radiation. Like the sun, sunbeds give off UVA and UVB rays, and both types can cause DNA damage and lead to skin cancer. One study found that the average skin cancer risk from sunbeds can be more than double that of spending the same length of time in the Mediterranean midday summer sun.

2. As long as I don't burn, I won't damage my skin

Burning or going red under a sunbed is a sign that you have seriously harmed your skin. UV can penetrate deep into the skin's layers and damage the DNA in our skin cells. Some of the damage may happen before you get burnt or your skin goes red. Cells damaged by UV are at greater risk of mutating and then dividing uncontrollably, which is what happens in cancer.

3. Skin damage from sunbeds is just as big a problem for young people

You can't always see the damage that UV rays do straight away as it builds up gradually. But every time you use a sunbed you are damaging your skin, making it look worse in the long run. Sunbeds aren’t just bad for your looks, they’re bad for your health too. Combining the results of studies on sunbeds and cancer shows that using a sunbed at any age increases melanoma risk by 16-20%.

4. Spending more time on sunbeds will not make your tan look any better

Using sunbeds can make your skin coarse, leathery and wrinkled. Far from being a sign of health, a tan is a reaction to DNA damage in the skin, and is a sign that your skin is damaged. Trying to increase a tan by having more sunbed sessions or using a sunbed after sunbathing does even more damage to your skin. Instead of tanning, we encourage everyone to own their own natural skin tone, and enjoy the sun safely. Find out more about our Own Your Tone campaign this summer.

5. You cannot tan safely by building your sunbed tan gradually 

Using sunscreen or limiting your time on a sunbed will not protect your skin from damage and ageing. In fact, short periods of intense, irregular UV exposure, like you get on a sunbed, damage your skin.

6. A sunbed tan will not provide much protection from the sun on holiday

A tan offers very little protection against the sun. At most, a sunbed tan is the equivalent to a sunscreen with SPF of just 3 – nowhere near the minimum recommended SPF 15.  A tan is a sign that your body is trying to protect itself from further damage.

7. You don't need a sunbed to produce vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Our bodies make the vitamin when our skin is exposed to UV rays and it is also present in certain foods. In general, people only need short exposures to the sun to make enough. So you don’t need a sunbed to get your vitamins.

Read more about vitamin D.

8. Use of sunbeds by under-18s is against the law in the UK

The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act came into force in Scotland in 2009, England and Wales in 2011, and Northern Ireland in May 2012.

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