Sunbeds-are they a safe way to tan?

Fiona Clark

As winter drags on you may be thinking about using a sunbed to get back that summer glow. But is it a good idea?

The answer from skin care specialists is an emphatic ‘No!’ While the manufacturers of sunbeds would have you believe sun beds are a ‘safe’ way to tan, various countries including Australia, Brazil, Ireland and a number of states in the USA have already banned their use because of their link to skin cancer. In the UK people under the age of 18 are barred from using them.

Sunbeds emit Ultraviolet (UV) light – the wavelengths that cause sunburn, skin damage, and various forms of skin cancers ranging from the easily treated basal cell carcinomas to the potentially fatal melanoma.

UV light is also a leading cause of premature skin aging – wrinkles, fine lines and sun spots. Cancer Research UK doesn’t mince its words when it states that “Sunbeds give out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage your skin and can make it look wrinkled, older or leathery.”


It explains that the UV rays from sunbeds damages the DNA in your skin cells. DNA is found in each cell and is often called the building block of life. Every time a cells reproduces itself an exact copy of that DNA is passed to the new cell. You skin cells regenerate themselves about every 28 days but if the DNA is affected that damage that is passed on to the next cell as well.  Cancer Research UK says that “over time this damage can build up to cause skin cancer”.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that exposure to sunbeds before the age of 35 years increases the risk of melanoma by 75 per cent. And, even using them rarely can put you at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Research shows that people who have ever used a sunbed are 20 per cent more likely to  develop melanoma later in life, compared to people who had never used one.


There are two main types of UV rays that do damage to the skin – UVA and UVB. Previously it was thought that UVB was the major cause of damage in the skin and skin caner but recent research shows that UVA, which penetrates deeper into the skin, may be the main contributor to premature aging of the skin and certain types of skin cancer.

Promoters of sunbeds claim they provide a safe tan, boost vitamin D production, and that having a tan protects against further sun damage. While it is true that a tan is your skin’s response to protect itself against UV light, the act of getting a tan is doing harm.

The IARC and the British Association of Dermatologist (BAD) agree that sunbeds provide no positive health benefits and that using one before you go on holiday doesn’t protect against further damage from the sun while you’re away.


Despite being marketed as a ‘controlled’ or ‘safe way’ of getting a tan sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun itself.

To avoid sun damage dermatologists recommend:

  • Using a moisturiser or sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day and 50+ if you’re out in the sun for a prolonged period.
  • Apply the sunscreen liberally – at least a teaspoon to cover the face.
  • Reapply the sunscreen every few hours.
  • Stay out of the sun between 10am-4pm.
  • Wear a broad brimmed hat and clothes that cover you as much as possible.

If you feel you need to be tanned, a spray tan or fake tan cream are better options. Sunbeds, however, should definitely be avoided.


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