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Nine out of 10 sunbeds defy safety rules, study reveals

Nine out of 10 tanning beds in England are breaking safety rules and giving off radiation levels that are up to six times higher than Mediterranean sunlight, according to a groundbreaking study.

Writing in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers from the University of Dundee reveal that levels of ultraviolet (UV) - the radiation that causes skin cancer - exceed safe limits in 89 percent of sunbeds, and emissions are increasing due to new high power sunlamps.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at 402 sunbeds across England and compared their UV levels with natural sunlight. The researchers also measured the sunbeds’ compliance with the British and European Standard*, which stipulates that the total UV irradiance for cosmetic tanning beds should not exceed 0.3 Wm-2 (watts per square metre).
The mean UV level was found to be almost double this (0.56 Wm-2), with only 11 percent falling within the set safety limit.

When compared with natural sunlight, scientists discovered that the average sunbed has a carcinogenic risk (risk of causing cancer) that is 2.3 times greater than midday Mediterranean sun. One in 10 sunbeds were found to emit levels at least 3.6 times higher than the Mediterranean sun, with levels of up to six times greater recorded.

Professor Harry Moseley, Consultant Clinical Scientist and one of the study’s authors, said: “The vast majority of tanning units we surveyed throughout England give off levels of UV radiation that exceed the maximum levels set out by the European standard. The skin cancer risk was up to six times higher than Mediterranean sunlight. The standard has been in place for almost 10 years and clearly self-regulation isn’t working. This situation is unacceptable and stricter control measures must be put in place.”

Technological developments leading to new, high power units, both in stand-up booths and lie-down sunbeds, have been blamed for this latest sunbed scandal.

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists explained: “High power sunlamps are a relatively new and worrying phenomenon. 15 years ago, sunbeds were generally thought only to emit UV levels that were comparable to UK sunshine. ‘Fast tan’ units are becoming increasingly popular, and England’s lack of regulation is failing to keep up with this trend. Product safety standards are there to protect the public and the government needs to step up its regulation of the industry. England is sadly trailing behind the rest of the UK in this matter. We need proper regulation, covering issues like safety of equipment and health warnings for clients, and this must be enforceable through inspections of premises.”

A recent study concluded that use of sunbeds before the age of 35 years almost doubles a person’s melanoma risk.1 Sunbeds are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ and fall within their highest cancer risk category.

Skin cancer is the UK’s most common cancer, with over 100,000 new cases diagnoses annually. Melanoma, the least common but most dangerous form of the disease, accounts for 12,800 of these new cases every year, and 2,700 deaths. In Britain, melanoma incidence rates have more than quadrupled over the last 30 years, and the numbers continue to rise.

Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, who funded the study, said: “Research has already shown that using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, by 87 per cent. They’re not going to do you any good – the best case scenario is that they’ll age and damage your skin; the worst case scenario is a cancer diagnosis and potentially death.”

The majority (60%) of sunbeds examined were located in tanning centres or beauty salons, although significant numbers were also located in hairdressers (17%) and fitness centres (15%).
Sunbed measurements were conducted in the North, Midlands, South West and London.


Notes to editors:

1. For more information and interview requests, please contact: Nina Goad or Deborah Mason, British Association of Dermatologists, Phone: 0207 391 6355, Email:, Website:

2. If using this information, please ensure you mention that the study is being released in the British Journal of Dermatology, the official publication of the British Association of Dermatologists

3. British Journal of Dermatology: Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis; P Tierney, J Ferguson, S Ibbotson, R Dawe, E Eadie, H Moseley; The Photobiology Unit, Ninewells Hospital & Medical School, University of Dundee, DD1 9SY, U.K.
DOI: 10.1111/bjd.12181
Articles in the BJD can be viewed online:


* BS EN 60335-2-27:2003 British Standard Institution BSI Household and Similar Electrical Appliances – Safety – Part 2-27: Particular requirements for appliances for skin exposure to ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The standard was endorsed by the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP): Opinion on Biological effects of ultraviolet radiation relevant to health with particular reference to sun beds for cosmetic purposes. 2006: SCCP/0949/05. All EU member states, including the UK government agreed to introduce this level, from 1 April 2009, for all new and traded tanning devices.

1Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis, BMJ 2012;345:e4757

The British Association of Dermatologists is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. For further information about the charity, visit

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit

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