Dr Clare Bailey: The real dangers of sunbeds

It’s hard to believe but, despite the many warnings about the dangers, people are still using sunbeds. I am astonished when I hear this. I understand that in deepest winter, when we’re all pale and pasty, the temptation of a ‘healthy’ glow is hard to resist. The reality, though, is that a tan doesn’t indicate good health. 

According to dermatologist Dr Clare Tait, tanning devices emitting ultraviolet radiation (UVR) have not demonstrated any health benefits, nor evidence of boosting our vitamin D levels. I remember falling asleep in front of a sun lamp as a teenager once and ending up with a lobster pink face and goggle marks – I sometimes worry now about what damage that did to my skin (along with sunbathing slathered in olive oil!). 

There is no such thing as a safe (real) tan. While the glow is short lived, the damage to the skin is likely to be long-lasting and cause premature ageing and wrinkles – due to the thinning of the stretchy collagen skin layer – as well as patchy pigmentation. 

dangers of sunbeds
Stone Sub/Jonathan Storey/Getty Images

Far more worrying, however, is the risk of UVR-induced skin mutations and the increased likelihood of developing three serious skin cancers in later years: malignant melanoma (MM), a fast growing, often darkly pigmented ‘mole’ accounting for most skin cancer-related deaths; squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a moderately fast-growing pink scaly thickened patch; or a basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a shiny pink slow-growing patch, sometimes with an ulcer in the centre which eats into the skin.

There is concern that the risk of MM almost doubles in those who use tanning beds prior to the age of 35, while having any indoor-tanning exposure increases the risk of developing SCC by 67 per cent and BCC by 29 per cent.

In the UK, as many as ten per cent of 25 to 44-year-olds used a sunbed or artificial tanning unit in the 12 months prior to September 2017. And according to the University of Dundee and Cancer Research UK, in nine out of ten tanning units they assessed, users were exposed to UV radiation levels higher thanthe maximum threshold set out by safety standards, with average exposure 2.3 times that of a Mediterranean midday summer sun.

As long ago as 2009, the World Health Organisation classified tanning beds as carcinogenic to humans – which places them in the same category of being dangerous to health as asbestos and tobacco – and in 2011 a law came into place in the UK banning under-18s from using them. 

As there are so many good fake tanning products around now (see below), sunbeds are really not worth the risk.

See your GP if you have…

  • Changes to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin
  • A growth that has irregular edges, or is uneven shades of brown/black/pink
  • A new growth or sore that doesn’t heal
  • A spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
  • A mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs

For more, go to nhs.uk/be-clear-on-cancer/symptoms/skin-cancer

YOU Beauty Director Edwina Ings-Chambers picks her top five self-tanners

Self-Tanning Drops, £35, drsebagh.com

Easy-to-use drops to add to your moisturiser. You can use them neat for a stronger colour.

Bondi Sands Liquid Gold, £14.99, boots.com

A mousse that smooths on easily and dries quickly for a light tan with a faint smell of coconut.

St Moriz 5-in-1, £7.99, superdrug.com

Quality that belies the price tag. The popular mousse gives a good colour –just be sure to rub and blend.

St Tropez In Shower, £14.50, boots.com

This gradual in-shower tan doesn’t give a deep colour but takes the pale edge off.

Tan-Luxe Wonder Oil, £45, spacenk.com

The rollerball applicator and clear oil combo isn’t as hard to apply as you may think and gives a natural-looking glow.