Back in 2012, Kate Moss and her modelling agency at the time, Storm, aimed to raise awareness over the dangers associated with sunbeds – putting heavy tans out of fashion. In the anti-sunbed campaign, 11 of the UK’s leading model agencies signed up to the cancer charity’s mission to counter the fashion of sunbeds, declaring that they will ban their models from artificially tanning and refuse to represent those who use sunbeds. It was the beginning of the end – or at least we hoped.
But worryingly, Cancer Research UK found more than 25 per cent of sunbed users are unconcerned about the dangers posed by sunbeds, even though the World Health Organisation classified sunbeds in the most serious category of cancer-causing products.
In the last 30 years, cases of malignant melanoma have more than quadrupled in the UK. Now, the disease is the second most common form of cancer for those aged 15 to 34. So with that in mind, we sought to answer all the questions surrounding sunbeds once and for all.
Are sunbeds safe?
According to the World Health Organisation, sunbeds are as dangerous as smoking.
The group placed use of the beds into the highest risk level for cancer, moving their rating from ‘probably carcinogenic’ to ‘carcinogenic to humans’ – putting them alongside cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.
Ministers are now considering introducing changing the law to protect people, particularly the young, who use them.
The shift in the WHO‘s stance was prompted by the results of a review of recent studies of ultraviolet radiation (UV) tanning by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon.
The deadliest form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among British women in their 20s. Two years ago experts warned the risk of developing skin cancer from using sunbeds has trebled in just a decade because the demand for an instant tan – ‘binge tanning’ – has led to the marketing of increasingly powerful sunbeds.
Dr Fatiha El Ghissassi, writing in the journal The Lancet Oncology, said: ‘Several case control studies provide consistent evidence of a positive association between the use of UV-emitting tanning devices and ocular melanoma (skin cancer of the eyelid).’
A spokesman for the Department for Health said: ‘Sunbeds can be dangerous. If necessary, we will look at new laws to protect young people.’
Kathy Banks, chief executive of the Sunbed Association, the industry body, said: ‘The relationship between UV exposure and an increased risk of developing skin cancer is only likely to arise where over-exposure, in other words burning, has taken place.’
Can you become addicted to sunbeds?
Using tanning salons could be addictive in a similar way to alcohol or drugs, a study has suggested. People who frequently use indoor tanning facilities may suffer addictive behaviour, according to a report in the journal Archives of Dermatology.
They are also likely to be more prone to anxiety symptoms and alcohol and drug use, said Dr Catherine Mosher, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, and Dr Sharon Danoff-Burg, of University at Albany, State University of New York.
Their survey of 421 college students revealed that among the 229 participants who had used indoor tanning facilities, the average number of visits during the past year was 23. More than a third (39.3 per cent) met criteria for tanning addiction.
Dr Mosher said: ‘Despite ongoing efforts to educate the public about the health risks associated with natural and non-solar UV radiation, recreational tanning continues to increase among young adults. In addition to the desire for appearance enhancement, motivations for tanning include relaxation and improved mood.’
A bill to ban sunbeds for under-18s was recently passed by the House of Lords. Cancer Research UK had been among those campaigning for a ban for under-18s after a study showed some 250,000 11-to-17-year-olds in England are risking skin cancer by using sunbeds.
John Overstreet, a spokesperson for the Indoor Tanning Association, dismissed the idea that excessive tanning should be called an addiction.
‘They’re labelling this as an addiction to attract your attention, the media’s attention, but whether it is useful science, I think the jury is very much out on it,’ he told Reuters Health.
The tanning industry, he said, preaches moderation when it comes to the use of tanning devices. ‘There is one thing we all agree on, that you’ve got to avoid burning and avoid overexposure,’ he said.
So the next time you’re thinking of getting a quick fix tan, try one of these fake tans from a bottle. Your skin will thank you for it.
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