Do Sunbeds cause cancer?
Do Sunbeds cause cancer?
Short answer – Yes!
The WHO recently release the infographic below which indicates that sunbeds undeniably cause cancer.
Natural UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface consists of approximately 95% UVA and 5% UVB radiation. Tanning parlours use different types of sunbeds, and the use of UVA vs UVB differs between sunbeds.
Forced tanning is associated with DNA damage in melanocytes, the cells that produce the dark-coloured melanin pigment in the skin. Forced tanning, even a small tanning effect, requires a lot of DNA damage in the fair-skinned population. Therefore, regular use of sunbeds will significantly increase your chances of getting skin cancer if you are fair-skinned. The new technology sunbeds are said to emit “safe” UV radiation. However, the original presumption that UVA is a safe form of UV radiation does not hold. If nothing else, it enhances skin ageing but, most likely, UVA also plays a role in skin cancer promotion. Assuming the average UVA and UVB levels of the sunbeds tested, the carcinogenic effect of sunbed use over a period of 10 minutes corresponds with an exposure to 10 minutes of Mediterranean summer sun. Regular sunbed use therefore contributes significant amounts to the user’s annual UV radiation exposure, especially as it involves whole-body exposure – the exposed skin area in sunbed tanning is at least twice as large as the average sunbather’s.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection states that “the use of sunbeds for cosmetic purposes is not recommended.” Regular exposure should not exceed two sessions per week with a maximum of 30 sessions per year.
The use of eye protection such as goggles or sunglasses should be mandatory. However, as sunbed users aim to have an even tan, they often decide against protecting any part of their body.
Users have reported a range of short-term symptoms including itching, dryness and redness of skin, freckling and photosensitivity.
Common long term outcomes, especially in fair-skinned people, may involve blistering of the skin. Sagging and wrinkling of the skin are an almost certain price to be paid by frequent sunbed users. Basically, you might be browner but you’ll age a lot quicker.
Some people should NEVER use sunbeds, and those include:
- under 18s
- 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 UV
- people who already have extensive “sunlight” damage
Simple precautions to be taken in the sun
Since we live in a hot country with plenty of sunshine hours (lucky us!) there are some precautions to be taken on a day to day basis:
- Limit time in the midday sun
The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When possible limit exposure to the sun during these hours.
- Watch for the UV index
take special care to adopt sun safety practices when the UV Index predicts exposure levels of moderate or above.
- Use shade wisely
Seek shade when UV rays are the most intense, but keep in mind that shade structures such as trees, umbrellas or canopies do not offer complete sun protection. Remember the shadow rule: “Watch your shadow – Short shadow, seek shade!”
- Wear protective clothing
A hat with a wide brim offers good sun protection for your eyes, ears, face, and the back or your neck. Sunglasses that provide 99 to 100 percent UV-A and UV-B protection will greatly reduce eye damage from sun exposure. Tightly woven, loose fitting clothes will provide additional protection from the sun.
- Use sunscreen
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+ liberally and re-apply every two hours, or after working, swimming, playing or exercising outdoors. Sunscreen should never be used to prolong the duration of sun exposure.
- Avoid sunlamps and tanning parlours
Sunbeds damage the skin and unprotected eyes and are best avoided entirely.
I believe all children should be required to wear a bucket hat during break-time at school, and put sunscreen on their faces and arms during break and sports. Every child should also carry a 500ml reusable water bottle that they can refill as needed throughout the day.
This blog post was summarized from a WHO article. If you are interested in reading the full article, I have pasted the link below, and the link to the UV page on the WHO’s website. They are both well worth a read.
Dr Danae Wolfaardt