Sunbeds: How Safe or Unsafe are They?

Using sunbeds seems to be the latest in a long line of things people like to do that the media tell us arwe shouldn’t. Shocking statistics from Cancer Research UK revealed that the risk of skin cancer from sunbeds has almost tripled in the last decade because the average sunbed has become more powerful. A frightening 83% of sunbeds were found to exceed EU guidelines on safe UV radiation, according to a recent survey in Scotland. So are they really as dangerous as the newspapers would have us believe, or is it just a case of yet another scare story?

Cancer Risk

There are around 70,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed every single year in the UK, and around 2,000 people die from the disease annually. While the overall number has doubled across the UK, in Scotland, which has the highest number of sunbeds in the UK, the number has tripled. In 2007, analysis of separate studies into sunbed use and cancer showed that the risk of getting skin cancer increases in anyone who has ever used a sunbed, and it’s even worse for younger people – the risk shot up by 75% in people who had started using sunbeds before the age of 35. As a result of this research, in April 2008 the UK government announced that it intended to implement measures that would effectively ban anyone under the age of 18 from using a sunbed.

Why is it so Risky?

You might have heard that sunbeds are safe because they have all of the dangerous rays removed, or even that they are a safe alternative to the sun if you want to get a tan. It’s not actually true – sunbeds are the intensity of UV rays from some sunbeds can be an astonishing 10 -15 times higher than the rays from the midday sun – which we’re all told to stay out of. UV rays don’t just make you age faster, they can change the structure of the DNA in your skin cells. It’s this damage which will increase the risk of skin cancer if you spend too much time in the sun or on a sunbed.

But I Still Want to Get a Tan!

The Sunbed Association (TSA) the tanning industry trade body has been fighting back, and is pointing to reports that far from being the baddie, sunbeds are actually good for more than a tan. They refer to research that showed how not getting enough sunshine can actually your risk of developing one or more of 24 different internal cancers as well as;

  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • heart disease
  • schizophrenia

They also point out that the UVB rays produced by sunbeds mimic those given out by the sun, and so responsible use of sunbeds can play a part in making sure that you get all the vitamin D you need. Tenuous, perhaps, but if you’re worried about your vitamin D levels and don’t get a chance to go out in the sunlight, you could always consider it…

What to Look For

You Should Definitely Avoid Sunbeds If:

  • You are under 16
  • You burn in natural sunlight
  • You have a medical condition that’s made worse by sunlight
  • You have a lot of moles and/or freckles
  • You have a history of sunburn, especially if you’ve burned as a child
  • You or an immediate member of your family have had skin cancer
  • You are on medication that might be affected by sunlight.

If none of the above apply, look for a TSA accredited salon. There are so many do’s and don’ts when it comes to sunbeds that most responsible operators will ask you to complete a medical questionnaire before they let you anywhere near a sunbed. If they don’t, think twice about the type of establishment you’re visiting – anyone who just lets you loose on a sunbed with no questions asked obviously doesn’t care about your health.

Once your skin type is taken into consideration, aim for a maximum of two or three sessions per week, and always leave a minimum of 24 hours (preferably 48) in between sessions. Inspect the salon before you sign up to anything – is it clean? Do the sunbeds look modern and well cared for? If you’re happy, go ahead. If not – modern fake tans are very effective…

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