Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

If sunbeds are dangerous should they be restricted?

By Jon Kelly
BBC News


A court case in Wales has highlighted the dangers of sunbeds. So why did we start using them so much and what laws surround their operation?

Sunbeds might offer a healthy-looking glow - or lend you the garish orange hue of a Z-list celebrity - but their darker side has been exposed by a court case in south Wales.

At Barry Magistrates Court, tanning salon owner James Hadley, 25, has been sentenced to community service and ordered to pay £6,000 costs after he admitted five health and safety offences.

He was investigated after a 14-year-old girl received 70% burns in his unstaffed Lextan salon in Barry in February.

The Sunbed Association, which represents UK tanning salons, has condemned Hadley and insisted he does not represent the industry.

Tanning boom

The origin of the sunbed can be traced back to 1891 when John Harvey Kellogg - also the creator of corn flakes - created an "incandescent light bath" to cure gout.

It was not until the late 1970s that the modern devices in salons today began to find their way into the homes of wealthy individuals.

Tanning salons started to appear on British high streets in the 1980s and have grown exponentially in the last decade.

The Barry case shines a light on an trade which now boasts three million customers in the UK each year - and is blamed by opponents for causing 100 deaths from melanomas each year.

James Hadley
Salon owner Hadley pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches

Sunbeds work by exposing the skin to ultra-violet radiation similar to that found in sunshine. However, while sunlight contains a mix of UVA and UVB radiation, sunbeds produce mainly UVA radiation, which penetrates deeper into the skin.

A study by Cancer Research UK found half of all girls between the ages of 15 and 17 in Liverpool and Sunderland used sunbeds, with 40% of this group said to go on them at least once a week.

The charity also links the popularity of the practice with the fact that skin cancer rates had quadrupled in the past 30 years - rising from 3.4 people in every 100,000 in 1977 to 14.7 in every 100,000 in 2006.

For many years, the regulation of salons was left in the hands of the industry but the Health and Safety Executive issued guidelines advising that no-one under 18 should be allowed to use a sunbed.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assesses sunbeds as "carcinogenic to humans" - yet a survey by Which? magazine in 2008 estimated that 170,000 under-16s in the UK had used one.

New laws?

In response to these figures, the Scottish Parliament voted to ban under-18s from using tanning salons or buying or hiring sunbeds.

That ban came into force earlier this month and Northern Ireland's Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is proposing similar legislation.

Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart announced in September she was also considering such a ban following the unsupervised use of a sunbed by a 10-year-old girl from Port Talbot.

And only this month in England the Health Secretary Andy Burnham told a cancer conference: "It is likely that a ban on sunbed use by under-18-year-olds will be necessary."

Under the Scottish legislation, sunbed operators will also be required to provide users with information about the health risks.

Some sunbeds use UV rays far more powerful than any sunlight you are likely to encounter in the UK
Sarah Woolnough
Cancer Research UK

Labour MSP Ken McIntosh, who proposed the ban, said Scotland had been hit by a skin cancer epidemic.

Sarah Woolnough, head of policy for Cancer Research UK, has urged politicians in the rest of the country to take heed of the Scottish lawmakers.

She said: "We think there is a serious problem with the lack of regulation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Some sunbeds use UV rays far more powerful than any sunlight you are likely to encounter in the UK. Yet there have been a number of documented cases of salons advising of the so-called health benefits of sunbeds - it's completely irresponsible.

If people use them responsibly there is little chance of damaging their skin
Kathy Banks
Sunbed Association

"We are a bit mystified as to why the rest of the UK has not followed Scotland's example."

The Sunbed Association, which says it regulates around 20% of the estimated 5-6,000 tanning salons in the UK, defended the industry from the legislative onslaught.

The Association insists members prevent under-18s from using sunbeds and refuses membership to those who run unmanned salons - indeed, chief executive Kathy Banks says she turned down Hadley because his premises were not staffed.

She says moderate use can have health benefits because it provides vitamin D, and insists the vast majority of customers are over 18.

She believes most sunbed users are sensible enough to make up their own minds.

Ms Banks says: "This is a free country. If people use them responsibly there is little chance of damaging their skin.

"Tanning is a cosmetic - it comes down to using it sensibly and in a safe way."

Print Sponsor

Owner of tanning salon sentenced
08 Dec 09 |  South East Wales
Under-18s face sunbed salons ban
30 Nov 09 |  Scotland
Salon 'concerns' before burning
17 Nov 09 |  Wales
Charity demands child sunbed ban
13 Nov 09 |  Health
Skin cancer on rise among 15-34s
16 Jun 09 |  Health
MSPs pass under-18 sunbed ban
12 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Women's 'binge tan' cancer risk
08 Apr 09 |  Health
Doctors rule out 'safe tanning'
18 Sep 08 |  Health

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Mail Online UK Judge calls for a ban on unmanned tanning salons after teenage girl suffers horrific burns - 1 hr ago

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