Sunbeds and tanning lamps

Just like sunlight

Getting a tan in a beauty salon is not a way to avoid sunburn. Quite the contrary, recent studies have demonstrated that there is a greater risk of skin cancer when sunbeds and tanning lamps are used excessively, this has resulted in the use of these devices being officially classified as carcinogenic and listed in IARC Group 1 – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organisation body. Anyone who can’t do without using them still needs to protect their skin with an appropriate sunscreen, in the same way as on the beach or the ski slopes.

Users should be aware that the levels of UV radiation emitted by tanning lamps are extremely high, comparable sunlight at noon in the tropics, and in some cases, they can actually be stronger than any kind of exposure that occurs naturally, as emphasised by both the WHO and the American Academy of Dermatology.

Compulsive use

Sunbeds, tanning lamps and showers: some people become obsessed with these indoor tanning devices and experts have coined the term tanorexia to describe the addiction to having a year-round tan. A survey of women under 30 who use artificial tanning devices found that one in five was addicted to them, this was documented in a study, the results of which were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The researchers found that, in many cases, these women started using tanning lamps at a very young age, they are concerned about their physical appearance, and display symptoms of depression.

How to choose a tanning salon

It is important to choose somewhere that guarantees technical reliability and safety: after a certain number of hours, the equipment can deteriorate and emit more dangerous radiation. In Italy, for example, an inter-ministerial decree established strict safety regulations and technical specifications which tanning salons are required to comply with.

Those most at risk

The International Agency for Research on Cancer found that people under 30 who use artificial tanning devices have a 75 percent greater chance of melanoma.

This is why the Italian interministerial decree bans under-18s from using tanning lamps, showers, and sunbeds. Pregnant women, people who have suffered from or currently have cancer, and those who burn easily are also prohibited from using these devices.

A very recent article published in JAMA Dermatology called for the use of tanning devices to be banned, pointing out that almost 420,000 cases of skin cancer are attributed to artificial tanning in the United States each year. There is a particular focus on young people in the article, and the authors point out that even where there are restrictive rules on artificial tanning (like in Italy) they are easily bypassed because any controls are inadequate. The fact that gyms, fitness clubs and wellness centres often provide tanning services can mislead many people into believing that artificial tanning is not a health risk, or even that it is beneficial.

In another study, the most vulnerable age group (14-17) was considered, the results demonstrated that banning tanning equipment benefits society, because it reduces cutaneous melanoma cases and related health costs. The costs associated with carrying out controls and the losses for the tanning industry do not outweigh the benefits. The results of the study were published in the journal Cancer.

Self-tanning products as an alternative

Many dermatologists consider these products to be a good alternative. Using self-tanning creams or sprays does not carry the risks associated with UV exposure, BUT there is no protection from sunburn. So it is important to remember not to be misled by a fake tan, and to take the same precautions in the sun we would with our natural colour.