Using a sunbed can be fatal

Many people, adults and teenagers, want to use tanning beds and they often think it is safer than sun tanning on the beach. This dangerous misconception can be fatal.

There is no such thing as a “safe” tan. Any darkening of the skin is a sign of damage, whether it comes through sun exposure or use of a tanning bed. Tanning beds use artificial ultraviolet (UV) light, which studies show is the primary cause of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. As a natural protective response to cellular damage,   cells react by producing melanin, which makes the skin appear darker. Tan skin is damaged skin. Use of sunbeds, especially by young people, increases the risk of getting skin cancer. There are two types of skin cancer: malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Of the two, malignant melanoma is the most serious. Fortunately, it is also rare. Malignant melanoma is the second most common cancer amongst young people (15 - 34 year olds).

Malignant melanoma is fast becoming a major issue. In fact, in the last few years incidences of malignant melanoma, in the UK, have risen faster than all the other top 10 cancers. Melanoma is a life-threatening malignant tumour that originates in cells called melanocytes (pigment producing cells). Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors, notably sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and genetics.

Studies worldwide have shown the dangers of sunbed use, especially by children and teenagers. The publication "Artificial Tanning Sunbeds: Risks and Guidance" of the World Health Organisation in 2003 recognised the vulnerability of young skin and recommended that young people under 18 should not use sunbeds. In 2006, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) to the European Commission noted that the risk of melanoma seemed particularly high when sunbeds were used at a young age and further recommended those under 18 years should not use sunbeds.

However, not everyone agrees that sunbeds contribute to an increase in skin cancers. The link between sunbeds and skin cancer is hotly debated. The Sunbed Association (TSA) believes that there is no proven link between sunbeds and skin cancer. The TSA has long argued that independent scientific analysis of the data: “irrefutably clarifies that any increased risk is associated with medical use UV equipment.”

Despite the TSA’s position, the majority of scientific and medical opinion believes that there is a proven link. Because of pressure from campaigners, in 2010 parliament passed the Sunbed (Regulations) Act. The Act came into force in April 2011. The act aims to combat the rising numbers of young people being diagnosed with skin cancer from over-exposure to UV rays by preventing under 18 year olds from being allowed to use tanning salons and sunbeds at premises.  This includes beauty salons, leisure centres, gyms and hotels.  The act also prohibits under 18s access to rooms where sunbeds are used. Local authority environmental health departments are in the frontline of enforcing the regulations.

The decision to use a sunbed is a personal choice - but a choice that should nevertheless be informed and guided according to the established relative risk of the activity.

Written by Kofi Dwinfour


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The prevalence of skin disease exceeds that of obesity, hypertension, or cancer. Despite skin being the largest organ of the human body, dermatological research remains one of the most under funded areas of medicine. In a world where society has an increasing preoccupation with image and it’s importance to every aspect of a person’s life, sufferers of skin diseases are feeling and being more marginalised and isolated than ever.

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