How do sunbeds cause skin cancer?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunbeds (tanning beds) can damage the DNA in your skin cells, and cause skin cancer.
  • There’s no such thing as a safe UV tanning.
  • ​​It is illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds.

Sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths give off ultraviolet (UV) radiation, just like the sun does. Too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds causes skin cancer.

If you want a tan, using fake tan from a bottle or a spray tan is safer than using a sunbed or sunbathing. There’s no such thing as safe UV tanning.

Since 2010 it has been illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds. And it is an offence for any business to offer UV tanning services to people under the age of 18.

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


Are sunbeds safe to use?

No. Sunbeds use high intensity UV radiation for quick tanning. UV radiation can damage the DNA in your skin cells. This can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.

You can’t always see the damage that UV rays cause as it can build up slowly. But a tan is a reaction to damaged skin cells that have been exposed to too much UV radiation.


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

No. Using a sunbed isn’t safer than sunbathing.

Sunbeds are sometimes marketed as a way of getting a ‘safer tan’. But this isn’t true. There is no such thing as safe tanning from UV radiation.  If you want to look tanned, use fake tan from a bottle or get a spray tan. We have more information about fake tan on this webpage.

But having a fake or natural tan doesn’t protect your skin from UV radiation. And using a sunbed before sunbathing won’t prevent you from getting sunburn! It’s important to stay safe in the sun by spending time in the shade, covering up with clothes and a hat, and using sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and 4 or 5 stars.

Find out more about enjoying the sun safely.


How likely is getting cancer from sunbeds?

Too much UV radiation is the 3rd biggest cause of cancer and the main cause of skin cancer in the UK. Every time you use a sunbed you are damaging your skin and increasing your risk of skin cancer.

The good news is that around 9 in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer in the UK could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and avoiding sunbeds.


Who’s at risk of skin damage from sunbeds?

Everyone who uses sunbeds increases their risk of skin cancer. Some people are more at risk than others. This includes people with one or more of the following:

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

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.

A bit of sun can help our bodies to make the vitamin D it needs, but there’s no need to sunbathe or use a sunbed to get vitamin D.

In the UK 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.


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 October 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: 30 November 2023

Next due for review: 30 November 2026

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