How do sunbeds cause skin cancer?

  • UV rays from sunbeds 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 16-20%.
  • Far from improving your looks, UV rays from sunbeds can make your skin look wrinkled, leathery and older.

How do sunbeds cause skin cancer?

Like the sun, sunbeds give off UVA and UVB radiation that can damage the DNA in your skin cells. If enough DNA damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.

IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) agrees sunbeds are an established cause of melanoma.

Remember, 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, increasing your risk of melanoma and making it look worse in the long run.

Is sunbed tanning safer than tanning in the sun?

No. Sunbeds are sometimes marketed as a ‘controlled way’ of getting a ‘safer tan’. But actually, sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun itself. 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.

A tan is a reaction to damage in skin cells when it is exposed to too much UV radiation. There is no such thing as healthy tanning. Some people think a pre-holiday tan or sunbed tan will protect them from burning, but a tan offers very little protection against the sun.

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 at Own your tone.

Skin Beauty Tips For Summer Sun | Cancer Research UK


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

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 which burns easily. In Winter the NHS recommends you consider taking vitamin D supplements. Using sunbeds isn’t a recommended way of making vitamin D. You can read more about this here.

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

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

Colantonio S, Bracken M, Beecker J. The association of indoor tanning and melanoma in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 70(5), 847-857 (2014).

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Is there such a thing as a “healthy tan”? [Accessed January 2019]

Agar N, Young AR. Melanogenesis: A photoprotective response to DNA damage? Mutat Res - Fundam Mol Mech Mutagen. 571, 121-132 (2005) doi:10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2004.11.016.

Tierney P, Ferguson J, Ibbotson S, Dawe R, Eadie E, Moseley H. Nine out of 10 sunbeds in England emit ultraviolet radiation levels that exceed current safety limits. Br J Dermatol. 168(3), 602-608 (2013) doi:10.1111/bjd.12181.

Coelho S.G. et al. Photobiological implications of melanin photoprotection after UVB-induced tanning of human skin but not UVA-induced tanning. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 28(2),210-216 (2015).

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