Stop! Step Away From The Sunbed

As we’re in the middle of a cold and snowy winter, you’d be forgiven for wishing winter away and dreaming about the warmth of the sun on your skin. If a trip to warmer climates isn’t on the cards at the moment, perhaps you’re contemplating other ways of getting a tan instead, to simulate that summery golden glow? However, if you’re feeling washed out by the winter weather, whatever you do, don’t be tempted to go for a sunbed – and here’s why.

Five de-bunked myths about sunbeds

1.    “Having a tan makes my skin look healthy”
Looks can be deceiving; tanned skin is actually just a sign that you have damaged skin. Sunbeds give out artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation which causes damage and increases your risk of skin cancer. Over time, your skin will become wrinkly, leathery and have aged prematurely. Sunbeds can also cause damage to your eyes – particularly if you don’t wear the goggles provided. You may be putting yourself at unnecessary risk of conjunctivitis and eye cancer.
2.    “Short bursts on the sunbed are the safest way to build up my tan”
Just because you’re only spending short amounts of time under a sunbed, doesn’t mean you’re immune to its UV rays. Short and irregular bursts on a sunbed at a high intensity, are the quickest way to cause damage to your skin. Furthermore, sunbed users often go for whole body tanning and expose twice as much skin than if they were sunbathing. Using sunscreen on a sunbed won’t fully protect you either.
3.    “The more sunbed sessions I have, the better my tan will be”
Everyone has a cut-off point – whether your skin is fair and it’s noticeable when you’ve had too much ‘sun’, or if you tan quickly and easily, there’s a point at which you won’t tan anymore or go a deeper colour. And it’s particularly dangerous to have two sunbed sessions within 24 hours. Tanning beyond your natural complexion is dangerous – it causes damage to the skin cells that make the dark-coloured melanin pigment in your skin. If you’re fair-skinned and use a sunbed, then you’re particularly at risk.
4.    “Topping up my tan before holiday will help protect me from the sun”
If you’re going on holiday soon, a tan gleaned from a sunbed won’t protect you from the real sun’s rays when you get there. At best, your tan is only worth the same as a sun protection factor (SPF) of two to three, which just isn’t anywhere near enough to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. To protect your skin from UV rays, you need to wear a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 15.
5.    “Sunbeds are controlled and safe”
Many people believe that sunbeds are a ‘controlled’ and perhaps safer way to get a tan. But this isn’t true – sunbeds are thought to cause about 100 deaths from skin cancer every year in the UK alone. A review of research found that people exposed to sunbeds before the age of 35 had over double the risk (59 percent) of developing skin cancer than people who never used one. Furthermore, a recent UK study found that nine out of 10 sunbeds in the survey gave out levels of UV radiation that were over the British and European safety limits, with the average skin cancer risk from using one more than double than if you spent the same length of time in the Mediterranean midday sun.

If you just can’t live without a tan, there are plenty of fake tan creams, sprays and oils out there. Always test it on a small area of your skin first to check you aren’t allergic. If you want to be 100 percent safe though, forget about a tan altogether and concentrate on having healthy and protected skin instead.

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Produced by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, 2013.

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