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Sunbeds & UV radiation

7. Conclusion on UV radiation and sunbeds

    Sunbeds were not in widespread use before the 1990-s and the full health effects of their use, including their role in inducing skin cancer, are not yet fully known.

    The use of sunbeds may have positive health effects. For instance, UVB exposure may increase vitamin D levels in users. Many people also claim they feel better after using a sunbed but there is no evidence of a biochemical basis for this.

    Potential adverse health effects from UV radiation include sunburn, inflammation of the eye, cataract formation, melanoma of the eye and different types of skin cancer. UV radiation can also reduce the functioning of the human immune system, which may be important in skin cancer and infectious diseases. The risk of developing a given type of skin cancer depends on the pattern of exposure.

    The important biological risk factors for malignant melanoma are age, sex (in some populations), skin type (in particular types I and II), moles, freckles and family history. Behavioural or environmental risk factors include sunburning intermittently, especially in youth.

    Natural and artificial UV radiation have the same physical and biological properties, but differences in the amount of UVA, UVB, and UVC emitted may have biological consequences. It is very difficult to compare their long-term effects. There is no need to specify different dose limits for UVB and UVA and there is no justification for the presence of UVC in sunbeds. UVB is the most harmful type of radiation for both short and long term effects.

    Safe limit values for exposure to UV radiation can only be given for short-term effects. There is no limit below which cancer will not occur. Consequently, any annual dose limits given are arbitrary. Maximum UV radiation intensity from sunbeds should never exceed 0.3 W/m2, the equivalent of tropical sun, which the WHO describes as extreme.

    The SCCP is of the opinion that the use of sunbeds is likely to increase the risk of malignant melanoma of the skin and possibly eye cancer. Therefore, people with known risk factors for skin cancer, especially malignant melanoma, should be advised not to use sunbeds. For instance, sunbeds should not be used by individuals under the age of 18 years as the risk of melanoma seems to be particularly high at a young age. In addition, eye protection should always be worn when sunbeds are used. More...

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