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Report Suggests UK Tanning Beds Expose Users to High Levels of UV Radiation

21/01/2013 | By Sharmila Chauhan

With the current cold weather and lack of sun – getting a tan is surely out of the question. However, winter sees a surge in the number of people using tanning machines. Still associated with the ‘healthy’ look, Britons seem adamant to get ‘kissed by the sun’  and in this age of austerity; it seems more and more people may consider a tanning machine in lieu of their winter sun getaway. But beware: a new study shows that nine out of ten sunbeds may break the UK safety rules.

The study which was carried out by researchers from the University of Dundee and was funded by Cancer Research UK was published in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Dermatology. Although there are licensing requirements for sun beds in the UK, the researchers wanted to investigate whether these were being adhered to and also what the basic risk of contracting skin cancer was from using the tanning machines.

They surveyed 402 tanning machines in the Midlands, southwest and assessed the UV radiation levels in three types of units: vertical, horizontal and high pressure. Using these measurements the researchers calculated the risk of skin cancer from each unit and compared this to the risks associated with exposure to natural sunlight in the middle of July in Greece. Although the researchers did not look at the number of people who used tanning beds and then got skin cancer; measurement of the level of radiation is known to be a good marker or indicator of the risk of getting skin cancer.

The study found that 89% of the units assessed exposed users to UV radiation levels higher than the maximum threshold set out by safety standards. On average the risk of skin cancer was about 2 times more than that of the Mediterranean midday summer sun. However some of the tanning machines, gave up to six times more UV radiation.

Licensing of tanning operations did nt have a uniform effect on the level of the radiation. In London,  licencing of a unit had no effect on radiation levels. However in the Southwest, which has licensing requirements, had significantly lower radiation levels compared to the units found in the Northeast. However, all regions had levels above the UK safety standard; regardless of licencing.

Overall the findings of this study suggests that sunbeds and other artificial tanning units in the UK may be exposing users to levels of radiation above those that are deemed safe. As always our advice is to avoid using tanning units. However, if you do feel the need to get that ‘tanned’ look there are plenty of fake tanning products on the market. In this case it may be far better to fake it.