One of the main risk factors associated with skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is naturally emitted from the sun. UV rays penetrate deeply into our cells and can cause gene damage, which in turn can trigger the development of cancer. With the popularity of tanned skin increasing, there has been widespread use of artificial sources of UV radiation such as sunbeds, lamps and booths.

Many experts support the notion that sunbeds shouldn't be used as a tanning method, especially by people considered to be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. These include:

  • young people (under 18 years old)
  • those with fair or freckly skin
  • those who burn easily
  • those who have a lot of moles
  • those with a family history of skin cancer
  • those using medication that increases sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) radiation

However, the regulation of the artificial UV radiation tanning industry in the UK has been inconsistent and largely unmonitored. In light of this growing concern, the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) has set up a working group to provide advice to the government on the needs for additional controls. Their report on the health effects and risks of artificial tanning devices (June 2009), concluded that there is evidence to suggest an increased risk of skin cancer among those who use sunbeds before the age of 35.

The report recommends that:

  • the unsupervised use and/or self-determined operation of sunbeds in commercial outlets should be prohibited
  • all commercial outlets should be licensed and registered, with equipment that adheres to British Standard
  • salons should have trained and competent staff
  • salons should be required to provide detailed written information on the health risks associated with the use of sunbeds
  • commercial outlets should be prohibited from promoting unproven health benefits of sunbed use.

Research on sunbeds in the South West

The South West Public Health Observatory (SWPHO) (now part of Public Health England) published two reports on sunbed outlets. One looked at the factors associated with sunbed density across the UK - Report: Sunbed outlets and area deprivation in the UK (November 2009) and Appendix 2: Sunbed outlets in the UK.

The second looked more closely at compliance and the regulation of the sunbed industry - Sunbed Regulation: a Review of Practice in the South West (January 2010). See also the Executive Summary.

Further information

Profiles – includes information on the density of sunbed outlets in each local authority area in England

Sunbed regulation and policy

Social marketing and sunbeds

Useful websites