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Sunbeds give your skin a tanned appearance by emitting harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reacts with your skin to create melanin. However, UV radiation also damages the DNA in your skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer. Most people know about this link between sunbeds and skin cancer but exactly how bad is it to use sunbeds? Here are five essential facts about skin cancer and sunbeds that you should be aware of before deciding whether to use one.
1. Using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 60%1
Sun beds are just as dangerous for young people as they are for older people, even though the damage to the skin is less visible. Each time you use a sun bed you’re damaging your skin, but the evidence suggests that it’s particularly risky if you’re under 35. If you start using sunbeds when you’re younger than 35, you’re increasing your risk of melanoma by 60%. Melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive type of skin cancer1.
It can be treated with surgery (which leaves a scar) but it can be fatal.
2. The radiation from sunbeds is equivalent to ‘extreme’ tropical sun2
The maximum legal radiation from sunbeds is not allowed to exceed 11 standard erythema doses per hour (erythema is the reddening of the skin caused by sunburn). This is not a safe level of UV radiation – it is equivalent to the strength of the sun at the tropics, near the equator.
The World Health Organisation describes this level of UV radiation as ‘extreme’ – it’s the strength of sun that would make you run for the shade if you were really out in it.
3. The visible signs of UV-related skin damage can take 20 years to appear1
We’re conditioned to see a tan as a sign of health, and we have become used to seeing magazines full of tanned, attractive people. But the reality is that a tan is actually a sign of damage – it’s something your body produces to try and protect the skin from further harm.
However, you can’t always see the other damage that UV radiation does to your skin straight away. In time, sun-damaged skin starts to look coarse, leathery and wrinkled – but it can take 20 years for the damage to appear1.
4. Malignant melanoma is the most common form of cancer among women in their 20s3
The harmful effects of tanning don’t always wait until later in life to appear, however. Malignant melanoma has recently overtaken cervical cancer to become the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women in their 20s.
Melanoma is also one of the deadliest cancers for young people - it’s one of the main killers of 15-34 year olds in the UK. Sunbed use is a large contributing factor to this alarming trend3.
5. You make enough vitamin D by going about your daily life4
There is a common misconception that using sunbeds is a good way to get the recommended level of vitamin D. Vitamin D is something your body creates when it is exposed to UV radiation. But any sunlight will do – and most people produce plenty of vitamin D simply by going about their daily lives.
People with naturally brown or black skin, people over the age of 65, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people who are housebound are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency. It’s recommended that people with a vitamin D deficiency should take a 10 microgram supplement each day4.
Concerned about skin cancer? You can find out more in our consultant Q&A about the disease here.
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