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Sunbeds & UV radiation

4. What are the health and safety implications of sunbeds?

  • 4.1 Can sunbeds harm health?
  • 4.2 Can sunbeds improve health?

4.1 Can sunbeds harm health?

4.1.1 In addition to sunburn, the use of sunbeds has been associated with short-term adverse effects such as dark skin patches and a form of skin fragility. Sunbeds have also been reported to induce or aggravate the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease affecting the skin and other organs.

Sunbeds can also cause adverse reactions in people who use certain medications or who eat plants or use aromatherapy products that contain certain chemicals that make their skin more sensitive and reactive to light.

Moreover, they can harm the immune function in humans. The role of UVB in reducing the human immune response is well known but that of UVA is less clear. It seems that UVA and UVB interact and that their combined effect on the immune system is greater than the sum of their individual impact. More...

4.1.2 There are very few studies on the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer as a result of using sunbeds and the conclusions are not consistent. A study in 2002 estimated that, for most people who may use sunbeds 10 or 20 times a year for 10 years or so in young adulthood, the lifetime risk of non-melanoma skin cancer is 10% higher compared with non-users.

There are few studies on the melanoma risk of sunbed use and the results vary. However, recent studies have generally found an association between sunbed use and melanoma.

The WHO deems that, based on data available, the risk of developing skin cancer in connection with the use of sunbeds is high in comparison to the “acceptable” risk of developing cancer from other consumer products.

There are no published studies on the photoageing effects of sunbed use but, since photoageing is associated with solar exposure, it is expected to occur as well with long-term use of sunbeds. Some studies have looked at the effect of repeated UVA and UVB exposure on human skin and have reported some changes associated with photoageing. As with the sun, sunbeds emit infrared radiation that may play a role in photoageing.

A recent study found “moderately strong” evidence that sunbed use results in melanoma of the eye, particularly for people who first used a sunbed before the age of 21. The incidence of melanoma of the eye was also found to increase with duration of sunbed use. More...

4.2 Can sunbeds improve health?

A recent study showed that people who used UVB-emitting sunbeds at least once a week for 6 months or more had levels of vitamin D nearly twice those of control groups and significantly higher hipbone mineral density. The study, however, has several flaws.

Many people claim to feel better after using sunbeds but studies using mainly UVA emitting sunbeds showed that these effects could not be attributed to mood-affecting serotonin, melatonin, or opioid peptides. UVB may help the body produce a type of endorphin responsible for sensations of pleasure, but this has yet to be investigated. More...

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