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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Q&A: Sunbeds
Using a sunbed is a very popular way to create the impression you have been sunning yourself at a Mediterranean resort.

But experts warn although a tan may look healthy, it is in fact a sign of skin damage, and have called for sunbeds to be banned.

BBC News Online examines the risks.

Is sunshine good for you?

Yes and no. We all need a certain amount of exposure to sunlight because it stimulates the production of Vitamin D, which is needed for healthy bones, muscles and a healthy immune system.

Sunlight also helps to improve our mood by triggering the production of chemicals produced by the pineal gland in the brain.

However, too much exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer, and of developing cataracts on your eyes.

How do sunbeds work?

Sunbeds work by exposing the skin to ultra-violet radiation similar to that found in sunshine.

This triggers the release of chemical called melanin, which causes the skin to tan.

However, while sunlight contains a mix of UVA and UVB radiation, sunbeds produce mainly UVA radiation, which penetrates deeper into your skin.

It is estimated that 20 minutes in a solarium can be equivalent to approximately four hours in the sun.

What are the risks of using sunbeds?

Sunbed use has been linked to an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Although sunbed use is less likely to produce the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, than over-exposure to sunlight, these skin cancers can still be disfiguring.

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.

Sunbed use has also been linked to suppression of the immune system, making users more vulnerable to infections.

Damage to the skin is also likely to lead to premature ageing, including leathery, wrinkled and sagging skin.

Is it safe to use sunbeds at all?

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.

Are some people more at risk than others?

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

    Councils urged to ban sunbeds
    21 Sep 03  |  Health

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