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Sunbed regulation and policy

EUROSKIN, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that ultraviolet (UV) appliances are not used for tanning or other non-medical purposes. However, the level of control varies between countries. For some, the risk posed by such devices when used for cosmetic purposes have justified strict regulatory control, while others have relied upon voluntary codes of practice to achieve specific standards.

Legislation and the sunbed industry in the UK

Until recently, the UK did not have specific legislation aimed at controlling the cosmetic use of sunbeds. Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce specific legislation in 2008. This was closely followed by the introduction of similar legislation in England and Wales, which came into force on 8 April 2011 Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill.

There are also more general legislative provisions that may be applied to the use of sunbeds. These include the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), generic pieces of health and safety legislation that require businesses and individuals to assess the health and safety risks created by their work activities, including the risks to employees and customers, and take measures to control those risks as far as is reasonably practicable.

Sunbed guidance and 'at risk' groups

To provide more specific requirements, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued voluntary guidance in the 1990s. This guidance advises that sunbeds should never be used by people who:

  • are under 16 years of age
  • have very fair skin
  • burn easily or tan poorly
  • have a lot of freckles or moles
  • have had skin cancer or a family history of the disease
  • are using medication that could make their skin more sensitive to UVR
  • already have extensive UVR damage

Since this guidance was published there has been considerable technological change in the sunbed industry as well as an expansion in the use of sunbeds, so an updated draft version of the guidance was released by the HSE for consultation in April 2008. Just over a year later, the HSE published the updated guidance.

Licensing of sunbeds in the UK

Some local authorities can 'adopt' specific legislation that allows the introduction of licensing regimes for certain cosmetic treatments, including the use of sunbeds. However, this legislation is restricted in its geographical application and mainly applies in Metropolitan areas.