1 in 3 women still use tanning beds and will continue to do so, despite knowing health risks

woman on tanning bed
1 in 3 women still use tanning beds despite risks Hans Neleman - Getty Images

Despite the growing health education surrounding the harms of sunbeds, new research has found that 1 in 3 women still use them and will continue to do so, despite the health risks. The research, which saw 1000 women across the UK independently surveyed, has been deemed a 'ticking time bomb' by dermatologists and health experts.

The data revealed that 91% are aware of the health risks when using tanning beds, 48% say sunbeds are addictive and a fifth admitted they use sunbeds to look ‘healthy and well. 57% of women also claimed that achieving a tan is their primary goal for using sunbeds.

The research also found that a significant number of women believed there are perceived benefits to using a sunbed, a point that was recently reiterated by Kim Kardashian, who said that it helps with her psoriasis condition.

In response to her claim, the National Psoriasis Foundation said that it doesn’t recommend tanning beds to treat the condition. This is because tanning beds emit mostly UVA light, not UVB which is the type of light that has been attributed to being beneficial for psoriasis.

Sunbeds work by emitting ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) at very close proximity to the skin to mimic the production of melanin, which results in what we associate with a tan. The rays are much stronger than those of the sun and are incredibly harmful and damaging to the skin.

Alyson Hogg, Founder of Vita Liberata who commissioned this research says 'more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer through smoking which explains why the World Health Organisation re-classified sunbeds to the highest cancer risk category alongside cigarettes. The risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – is boosted by 75% if you use sunbeds before you are 35'.

The popularity of sun beds is rife when you scroll through TikTok. Currently on the social media platform, the hashtag #sunbedaddiction 20.5m views, while #tanningsalon 651.5m views.

Creator @ellieeejonessx shared with her 85K followers that she uses sunbeds every day while @bethanyrowe shares sunbed #tanninghack using salt water for tan lines to her 29k followers.

@itsnotemma8 posted a video of her sunbed tanning while acknowledging the health risks. The post went viral with 4.8m views and 700k likes.

The survey also highlighted that not everyone is clued up on the dangers of tanning beds.
39% of respondents said they would stop using sunbeds is they knew if they were as dangerous as smoking cigarettes while only 9 out of 10 said they have never been advised by a health professional about avoiding sunbed usage.

The calls for public health warnings to put on sunbeds, like those found on cigarettes, are growing. England and Wales prohibited commercial sunbed use among under 18-year-olds in 2011 but Hogg believes further action is needed.

Australia and Brazil have outright banned indoor tanning services on all commercial businesses, whilst other countries have introduced tougher restrictions such as supervised access, stricter licencing and training for staff.

'Warnings like, "sunbeds are addictive" and "sunbed radiation can cause cancer' should be present and clear before anyone steps onto a sunbed, says Hogg. 'We also need firmer regulation on sunbed shops to ensure correct checks are made on proof of age, medical history and that time and frequency of exposure is limited. Health care professionals should also be communicating the dangers and risks associated with sunbeds, like they do with smoking. This will save lives,' she adds.

Dr Sophie Shotter, Sunguard ambassador for the Melanoma Fund, says the cultural beauty standards play a huge part. 'The allure of a tan can be strong, but the simple fact is that tanning, whether from the sun or a sunbed, will damage your skin, and increase your risk of skin cancer. Either embrace your natural skin tone or fake it, but always choose to sun protect, and remember you are setting a powerful example for others too.'

Regularly monitoring your skin's health is crucial in detecting early signs of skin cancer. While melanoma symptoms can vary from person to person, it's important to promptly consult your doctor if you notice any signs or symptoms listed below.

  • Any new spots or moles on the skin

  • Any spot that looks different from others on your body

  • Any broken skin or sore that doesn’t heal

  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of a mole

  • Colour that spreads from the border of a spot into the surrounding skin

  • Irritation or tenderness in an area that doesn't go away or is recurring

  • Changes in the surface of a mole: Scaliness, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump

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