Newsbeat guide to... sunbeds and tanning


Woman on a sunbed

Nine out of 10 sunbeds in England do not meet British and European safety standards, new research suggests.

The levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by 400 sunbeds were on average two times higher than recommended limits, say the British Journal of Dermatology.

Researchers say the number of skin cancers will rise if nothing is done.

Sunbed manufacturers say regulation is making them safer to use.

What are the risks of using sunbeds and is there anything you can do to be safer using them?

How do sunbeds work?

Sunbeds work by exposing the skin to ultra-violet (UV) radiation, similar to that found in sunshine.

This releases a chemical called melanin, which causes the skin to tan.

However, while sunlight contains a mix of UVA and UVB radiation, sunbeds produce mainly UVA radiation, which penetrates deeper into your skin.

It is estimated that 20 minutes on a sunbed can be equivalent to approximately four hours in the sun.

A model alongside an image of her damaged skin detected by the UV scanner
Image caption Scanners can reveal the damage done to skin by tanning

What are the risks?

Doctors say using a sunbed is not necessarily safer than tanning in the sun.

    • have fair, sensitive skin that burns easily, or tans slowly or poorly
    • have a history of sunburn, particularly in childhood
    • have lots of freckles and/or red hair
    • have lots of moles
    • use medicines that make skin sensitive to sunlight
    • have a medical condition that is made worse by sunlight
    • if someone in your family has had skin cancer
    • already have skin badly damaged by sunlight
The NHS says avoid sunbeds if you:

They also say the risks from UV rays are greater the younger you are. It is now illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds.

Prolonged exposure to UV rays increases your risk of developing malignant melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer.

According to the NHS, the rays can also hurt your eyes, by causing problems such as irritation, conjunctivitis or cataracts, especially if you don't wear goggles.

Damage can also be done to your skin, including causing wrinkles, loss of elasticity and premature aging.

Sunbed manufacturers say they are getting safer to use and that the recent studies are out of date.

What precautions are there?

The sunbed operator should be able to advise you on your skin type and the maximum amount of time you should spend tanning.

Doctors also advise to always wear goggles to protect your eyes whilst using a sunbed.

The British Photodermatology Group (BPG), which is an expert on the effect of light on the skin, recommends that sunbeds are not used at all.

If people do use them they should limit their use to no more than two courses - or 10 sessions - a year.

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