How do sunbeds cause skin cancer?

  • UV radiation from sunbeds (tanning beds) can damage the DNA in your skin cells, and over time this damage can build up to cause skin cancer.
  • Using sunbeds can increase your risk of melanoma skin cancer by up to 20%.
  • UV rays from sunbeds can damage both your skin and your eyes.

How do sunbeds cause skin cancer?

Like the sun, sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths give off ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This radiation can damage the DNA in your skin cells. If enough damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control.

This can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma skin cancer – a type that can spread to other areas of the body.

You can’t always see the damage that UV rays cause as it builds up slowly. But every time you use a sunbed you are damaging your skin, increasing the risk of both melanoma skin cancer and visible skin damage. 

Are sunbeds bad for you?

Yes. Sunbeds use high intensity UV radiation to create a rapid tan.

A tan is a reaction to damage in the skin cells when it is exposed to too much UV radiation. There is no such thing as healthy UV tanning.

If want to tan, then using fake tan is a safer way to do it. 

Remember that fake tan doesn’t protect you from UV radiation. It is still important to protect yourself from the sun by spending time in the shade, covering up with clothing and using sunscreen with at least SPF15 and 4 or 5 stars. Find out more about enjoying the sun safely


Is it safer to use a sunbed rather than to sunbathe in the sun?

No. Using a sunbed isn’t safer than sunbathing. And sunbeds won’t protect you from sunburn or damage to your skin from sunbathing. 

Sunbeds are sometimes marketed as a way of getting a ‘safer tan’. But there is no such thing as a safe tan from UV radiation. One study found that skin cancer risk from sunbeds can be more than double that of spending the same time in the Mediterranean midday summer sun. 


Who’s at risk of skin damage from sunbeds?

Everyone who uses sunbeds increases their risk of UV damage and skin cancer, but some people are more at risk of burning than others. This includes people with one or more of the following:

•    skin that burns easily
•    light or fair coloured skin, hair, or light coloured eyes
•    lots of moles or freckles
•    a history of sunburn
•    a personal or family history of skin cancer

It is important to know how you can protect yourself. Find out more about your skin type and risk of sunburn.


Do you need to use a sunbed to get enough vitamin D? 

No. Any vitamin D you might get through using a sunbed is outweighed by the harms of using sunbeds. 

You might be surprised at how little time you need in the UK summer sun to get enough vitamin D, especially if you have fair skin that burns easily. 

In winter (between October and the end of March) the NHS recommends that people consider taking vitamin D supplements. Using sunbeds isn’t a recommended way of making vitamin D. 

Find out more about vitamin D and the sun


Sunbeds and the law 

In 2010 the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act made it illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds. Anyone with a sunbed business is committing an offence if they offer tanning services to people under the age of 18.

You can read more about the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 on the government website. 

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Radiation. Vol 100; 2012.

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Is there such a thing as a “healthy tan”? [Accessed June 2021]

Boniol M. et al. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 345 (2012). doi:10.1136/bmj.e4757

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 4.3 out of 5 based on 52 votes