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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Doctors warn against sunbed use
UV light is linked to skin cancer
The British Medical Association is advising people not to use sunbeds because of potential health risks.

A report by the doctor's body also calls on the government to regulate sunbed use.

It found that some people are having more than 100 sunbed sessions in one year.

The British Photodermatology Group (BPG), which is expert on the effect of light on the skin, recommends that sunbeds are not used at all.

But it says that if people do use them they should limit their use to no more than two courses - or 10 sessions - a year.

People use sunbeds because they think they'll look better and yet they will probably end up looking old prematurely and possibly getting skin cancer
Dr Vivienne Nathanson
While the government does not recommend the use of sunbeds, there is currently no training or regulation associated with their use.

But the World Health Organisation has stated that there is "an urgent need to reduce the health and environmental impact of increased ultra-violet exposure" and has called for public education about this issue.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said: "We really need a public health campaign to educate people about the dangers of sunbeds and also myths about tanning.

"A suntan is not a sign of good health. A tan, even when there is no burning, always means that the skin has been damaged. A suntan is not nature's own sunscreen, it does not protect you from ultra-violet radiation.

"It's ironic, people use sunbeds because they think they'll look better and yet they will probably end up looking old prematurely and possibly getting skin cancer."

Health risks of using a sunbed
Certain types of skin cancer - young people are most at risk
Premature ageing, including leathery, wrinkled and sagging skin
Eye damage
Suppression of the immune system
Sunbed use has been linked to an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Young people appear to be particularly at risk, with the chances of developing a tumour increasing by up to 20% per decade of sunbed use before the age of 56.

The eyes, in particular the cornea, are very prone to damage from tanning equipment.

It is recommended that sunbed users wear protective goggles, but research shows that people may not use them even if they are provided.

Sunbeds work by exposing the skin to ultra-violet radiation.

Sometimes ultra-violet radiation is used to treat psoriasis and eczema.

However, doses are tightly controlled by a dermatologist.

The BMA says there are some people who should never use sunbeds under any circumstances:

  • Under 16s
  • People who have very fair skin
  • People who burn easily or tan poorly
  • People with a lot of freckles or moles
  • People who have had skin cancer or have a family history of the disease
  • People using medication that could make their skin more sensitive to ultra-violet light
  • People who already have extensive ultra-violet radiation damage

Sun risk

Dr Richard Sullivan, of Cancer Research UK, agreed that over-use of sunbeds was to be avoided.

However, he said the major problem in the UK was over-exposure to sunlight, which, unlike exposure to artificial ultra-violet, caused potentially deadly forms of skin cancer.

"We would endorse the fact that excessive use of sunbeds is dangerous. It can lead to the development of non-lethal forms of skin cancer which may require disfiguring surgery, and it also massively ages you prematurely.

"But the major issue in the UK is the rising incidence of malignant melanoma caused by over-exposure to sunlight."

Dr Sullivan said the problem was compounded by the fact that many people with malignant melanomas sought medical advice only when the cancer had reached a late stage.

Sunbeds are linked to two types of skin cancer, called basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma.

The Sunbed Association, which represents sunbed operators, manufacturers and suppliers in the UK, said sunbeds provided a controlled environment for tanning.

A strict code of practice was in operation.

The BBC's Gill Higgins
"Ultimately, no tan is a safe tan"

Warning over sunbeds
03 Mar 99  |  Health
Sunbeds 'raise' skin cancer risk
06 Feb 02  |  Health
Sunlight poses skin dangers
07 Feb 02  |  Health

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