A Guide to Sunbeds

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What You Need to Know

  1. Around three million people use a sunbed on a regular basis according to The Sunbed Association’s figures.
  2. Like the sun, sunbeds cause tanning by emitting low levels of UV radiation.
  3. Fans of sunbeds say their regular use helps them look and feel better, with a year-round tan linked to enhanced self-esteem.
  4. Sunbeds can be used to top an existing tan, or to build up a base tan before your summer holidays.
  5. In the UK, as well as in many other countries, strict laws are in place regulating the use of sunbeds, particularly among young adults and children.
  6. Remember that you can’t always see the damage that UV rays are causing. The symptoms of skin damage can take up to 20 years to appear.
  7. Cancer experts advise that you refrain from using sunbeds if you have a history of skin disease, are fair-skinned or have a lot of moles.

How Sunbeds Work

Whilst, in years gone by, pale skin was a highly desirable sign of high social class, these days most people think of bronzed skin as an attractive indicator of good health.

As a result, many people are keen to maintain year-round tan, with sunbeds providing the solution for those living in countries that don’t enjoy year-round sunshine.

Sunbeds work by emitting low levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation through several fluorescent lamps, usually of between 12 to 28 watts but sometimes of as much as 100 or even 200 watts.

The lamps emit UVA and UVB waves but not UVC waves. As with natural sunlight, these waves penetrate the skin, boosting vitamin D production and causing the skin to become bronzed.

The main potential risk with sunbeds lies in the fact that they tend to give out far greater doses of UV rays than the midday sun, meaning prolonged exposure to lamps can lead to a range of health problems.

Booths versus Beds

Both horizontal sunbeds and vertical tanning booths work the same way, using UV rays to bronze the skin. However, for some people, booths are preferable, not least as they are seen as more hygienic.

For instance, fans of booths point out that they don’t have to come into contact with surfaces on which other users have also lain down and sweated on.

Rules Concerning Sunbeds in the UK

Under the Sunbeds Regulation of Act, children and young adults under the age of 18 are banned from using sunbeds on commercial premises.

Operators are also required by law to provide users with the latest information concerning the possible health effects of sunbeds, while users themselves are also legally required to wear eye protection at all times while using such tanning equipment.

These rules are in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which also call for the worldwide ban of the unsupervised use of sunbeds.

Potential Benefits of Sunbeds

Above all, sunbeds allow users to enjoy a year-round tan, often giving the impression that they have just got back from holiday.

By using sunbeds, as well as ‘topping up’ an existing tan, if you’re going on abroad, you can also build a ‘base tan’ before getting on your airline flight to help get you going .

Fans of tanning equipment also argue that, by giving their users tans, sunbeds offer certain psychological benefits, not least in that they can boost self-esteem.

Similarly, it’s claimed that, by encouraging the body to produce more vitamin D, a session on a sunbed can induce health benefits such as feelings of happiness and even help counter the effects of Seasonally Affected Depression.

Health Considerations

Exposure to UV radiation from tanning equipment can damage your skin and even your overall health.

Among the short-term damaging effects of using sunbeds are dryness of the skin, itch rashes, eye irritation (though goggles should always be worn) and the emergence of blisters.

More importantly, sunbeds can also pose long-term health risks. According to Cancer Research UK, sunbeds “aren’t a safe alternative to tanning outdoors.

Like the sun, sunbeds give out harmful UV rays which damage the DNA in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer”.

Indeed, the charity warns that sunbeds cause an estimated 100 deaths from melanoma every year in the UK, with even small sessions and the use of sunscreen.

You are strongly advised against using a sunbed if you;

  • Are under the age of 18.
  • Tend to be burned easily.
  • Have a history of skin cancer, either personally or in your family.
  • Have fair or freckly skin or a lot of moles.
  • Are taking medication that could increase your sensitivity to UV waves.

Further Reading


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