Sunbeds give out harmful UV rays which damage your skin and can make it look wrinkled, older or leathery. The UV rays from sunbeds can also damage the DNA in your skin cells, and over time this damage can build up to cause skin cancer. Sunbeds can sometimes be marketed as a ‘controlled way’ of getting a ‘safer tan’. But actually, sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun itself, and the amount of UV people receive varies enormously too.
IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) agrees there is sufficient evidence to show that using sunbeds causes malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. They also conclude that sunbeds provide no positive health benefits. Sunbeds don’t protect against further damage from the sun.
The truth about sunbeds
There are lots of myths about sunbeds. You can find the truth behind these myths below.
On this page
- Skin damage from sunbeds is just as big a problem for young people
- Spending more time on sunbeds will not make your tan look any better
- Sunbed tanning is no safer than sun tanning
- You cannot tan safely by building your sunbed tan gradually
You can't always see the damage that UV does straight away as it builds up gradually. But every time you use a sunbed you are damaging your skin, making it look worse in the long run. Using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by nearly 60%. Surgical treatment for skin cancer can result in serious scarring, and melanoma can be fatal.
No matter how much UV you receive, there comes a point when your skin won't get any darker. Using sunbeds can make your skin coarse, leathery and wrinkled. Trying to increase a tan by having more sunbed sessions or using a sunbed after sunbathing is harmful.
Sunbeds are not a 'safe' alternative to sun tanning. The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Like the sun, sunbeds give off UVA and UVB rays. While sunburn is mostly caused by UVB, both types of UV can cause DNA damage and lead to skin cancer.
Modern sunbeds emit mostly UVA rays, but UVB rays can make up anywhere from 0.5-4% of their total output. These emissions can be comparable to the midday sun. And the amount of UVA given off can be 10-15 times higher than the midday sun.
Using sunscreen or limiting your time on a sunbed will not completely protect your skin from damage and ageing. In fact, short periods of intense, irregular UV exposure, like you get on a sunbed, damage your skin.
At most, a sunbed tan is the equivalent to a sunscreen with SPF of just 2-4. Not enough to keep you safe in the sun.
Burning or going red under a sunbed is a sign that you have seriously harmed your skin. UV can penetrate deep into the skin's layers and damage the DNA in our skin cells. Some of the damage may happen before you get burnt or your skin goes red. Cells damaged by UV are at greater risk of mutating and then dividing uncontrollably, which is what happens in cancer.
Vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Our bodies make the vitamin when our skin is exposed to UV rays and it is also present in certain foods. In general, people only need short exposures to the sun to produce adequate amounts. So you don’t need a sunbed to get your vitamins! For more information see our vitamin D page.
The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act came into force in Scotland in 2009, England and Wales in 2011, and Northern Ireland in May 2012.
Cancer Research UK worked hard and was heavily involved in campaigning to help the legislation come to pass. At the beginning of 2010, we worked with Julie Morgan, the previous MP for Cardiff North, and Sian James MP and Baroness Finlay to campaign for legislation to address this problem. After an intense campaign with lots of meetings, letters and emails from our supporters, and an appearance in Parliament by Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts, the hard work paid off when just four months later MPs passed the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act that restricts the use of sunbeds to over 18s. But we know that still, many children use sunbeds and we would like to see an end to this.
To make the legislation even more effective, we believe the government should introduce the supporting measures included in the legislation. These additional measures will ensure that all sunbed salons are staffed by properly trained staff and that all adults are given appropriate health information about the risks.