Bundle up and save. Get up to 15% OFF.

Bundle up and save. Get up to 15% OFF.

Spend: £32+ get 5% OFF | £45+ get 10% OFF | £65+ get 15% OFF

Spend: £32+ get 5% OFF | £45+ get 10% OFF | £65+ get 15% OFF

FREE shipping on £25+ orders 🚚

FREE shipping on £25+ orders 🚚


The Hidden Dangers of Sun Beds and Tanning for Your Skin Health

The Hidden Dangers of Sun Beds and Tanning for Your Skin Health

A guy I know knocked on my door recently. He’s in his late thirties, runs his own business, is into cars and loves water sports. 

I hadn’t seen this friend for a few months and noticed his skin was pretty red. Bear in mind he knows all about LifeJacket and what we do. I asked if he he'd been away and, sheepishly, he said he'd 'jumped' onto a sun bed the day before for a bit of colour. 

This is a very normal guy and not somebody I'd ever describe as vain or image conscious. I had (and have) absolutely zero objections to his underlying motivation. A tan is associated with looking fresh, healthy and, well, better. Given the opportunity, few of us would spurn the opportunity to look 'better', right?

We'll come back to this later...

The raw facts

A UK study found that about 86% of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whether that's natural UV from the sun or artificial UV from sun beds.  

We know that tanning, whether outdoors or under the artificial light of a sunlamp, causes cumulative damage to the skin over time.

Now it doesn't take long to find internet trolls proclaiming sunscreens are the true cause of skin cancer and humans have lived under the sun for thousands of years. That's a LifeJournal for another day but for now, let's try and agree that the World Health Organisation are directionally accurate when they say that UV is a human carcinogen.  

The science of tanning

The reality is, tanned skin is damaged skin.

When we sit under sunshine or a solar lamp, "UV radiation penetrates the skin and leads to a number of growth factors and enzymes being produced", according to the British Skin Foundation.

"This stimulates the production of melanin, which causes the skin to change colour. The production of more melanin is basically a sign of damage in itself – and is the skin’s attempt to protect you from any further damage caused by the sun."

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each time you tan, the damage builds up, creating more genetic mutations and a greater risk of cancer. 

Sun beds

In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer re-classified solariums, or sun beds, as a Group 1 carcinogen, putting them in the same category as tobacco and asbestos.

The high-pressure sunlamps used in tanning salons emit levels of UV radiation up to five times stronger than the midday Australian summer sun. Such intensity in a largely unregulated industry where training of staff isn't mandatory, increases health risks considerably. The risk is greater in unsupervised commercial sun bed operations and when sun beds are used at home, where the duration of UV radiation exposure is at the discretion of the user. 

Not surprisingly, people who use tanning salons are 2.5x times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma (a form of skin cancer).

According to recent research, exposure to tanning beds when you’re young increases melanoma risk by 75%.

And so, in October 2013, Australia banned commercial sun beds entirely. Brazil followed suit. 

Salon use across the world

I've since learnt that my friend's visit to the salon for a quick shot of UV is pretty commonplace.

In the US, 35% of people have used a sun bed at some point. It’s a $1 billion-a-year industry over there and continues to grow.

In Northern Europe, approximately 10% of the population use sun beds on a regular basis.

A study in Sweden estimated that tanning is so popular, the amount of artificial UV the population absorbs from tanning salons is equivalent to a 10% depletion in the ozone layer (would love to see the maths behind that particular calculation!).

What's the motivation?

The motivations for many people when tanning in a salon or under the sun can broadly be  put down to the following:

  • Wanting to look better
  • Tanning makes you feel good
  • Relaxation, or
  • Want a pre-holiday, pre-tan.

    In extremis, there's a cohort of people who have more deep-rooted impulses to visit the tanning salon.

    In one piece of research in the US, 70% of frequent sun bed users met criteria for UV light substance abuse or dependence disorders. Some of the people involved in the study reported either missing social events to go and tan, facing social consequences because of tanning, or continuing to tan despite knowing the health risks.

    As with other addictive behaviours (like smoking), the younger a person is when the behaviour starts, and the more frequently they tan, the greater the likelihood of dependence. There's also evidence that some frequent tanners are self-medicating underlying psychiatric disorders.

    Some researchers believe excessive tanning may be a form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Body dysmorphic disorder is the obsession over a specific body part and the belief that this body part is deformed or defective. In this case, the skin becomes the subject of the disorder.

    In winter time, there's also Seasonal Affective Disorder where a negative reaction to long, dark winters can be another driver for frequent sun bed tanning. This might explain the previous statistic from Sweden.

    Our view on sun beds

    An open discussion is always welcome but I can't finish this post without emphasising how bad sun beds are for the skin and your health.

    Granted they can be used medically to treat a small handful of conditions but that's under strict supervision and guidance.

    But otherwise, do NOT use them. Please. 

    If you want to be tanned, fake it!

    This might be a plaster on a bigger problem but fake tanning is a perfect and completely safe solution if you like to look tanned. 

    If my friend isn’t embarrassed or ashamed to admit he drove to a tanning salon, he should be able to use a fake tan product. If it reduces the number of skin cancer cases, isn't it time to change perspective on this particular taboo? We hope so. 

    As always, thanks for reading.