Use of tanning beds by youths age 11-17 in the UK is widespread according to results recently published in the British Medical Journal. Use of tanning beds has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.

Each year in the United States, an estimated 28 million people visit an indoor tanning facility, with a majority of visits made by women and teenage girls. In a U.S. survey of White adolescents (13 to 19 years old), 37% of the girls and 11% of the boys reported having used a tanning bed at least once. The bad news is that tanning beds—like the sun—expose the skin to ultraviolet radiation, and a growing body of research indicates that indoor tanners have an increased risk of skin cancer.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is often divided into three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA has the longest wavelength and least energy of the three, and UVC has the shortest wavelength and most energy. Although the sun emits all three types of ultraviolet radiation, only UVA and UVB reach the surface of the earth (UVC and some UVB are blocked by the ozone layer). UVA and UVB are also the types of ultraviolet radiation emitted by most tanning beds.

UVB is the cause of most sunburns and has long been recognized as carcinogenic. UVA—which penetrates more deeply into the skin—was initially thought to be relatively safe. Now, however, it’s recognized that both types of ultraviolet radiation are likely to contribute to skin cancer. Ultraviolet radiation also contributes to premature aging of the skin.

The strongest evidence for a link between indoor tanning and melanoma is found among individuals who were first exposed to indoor tanning at a young age. In a combined analysis of previously published studies, individuals who had their first exposure to indoor tanning before the age of 30 were 75% more likely to develop melanoma than individuals who had no exposure to indoor tanning. Exposure to indoor tanning was linked with a more than twofold increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

Because of the cancer risk, avoidance of tanning beds is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently held hearings to evaluate whether stricter regulations on this industry are warranted.

In this study, over 9,000 children from England, Wales, and Scotland were surveyed to determine prevalence of tanning bed use.

  • 6% indicated that they had used a tanning bed.
  • 15% indicated that they might use a tanning bed in the future.
  • 50% of girls from larger cities in the UK indicated that they had used a tanning bed.
  • 38.4% of those surveyed who indicated that they used a tanning bed, did so at least once a week.
  • 24.7% indicated that they used a tanning bed unsupervised.

These researchers concluded that tanning bed use in the UK is widespread and may warrant regulation due to the risk of developing skin cancer, especially when exposed at such a young age.


Thomson C, Woolnough S, Wickenden M, Hiom S, and Twelves C. Sunbed use in children aged 11-17 in England: face to face quota sampling surveys in the National Prevalence Study and Six Cities Study. British Medical Journal. 2010;340:c877.

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