Eight out of ten sunbed users have increased their risk of a life-threatening form of skin cancer by around 75 per cent according to Cancer Research UK.
A survey of 4000 people, commissioned by the charity, has found that the vast majority of sunbed users (82 per cent) first soaked up the artificial tan enhancing rays before they were 35.
This is particularly dangerous according to a report published by the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) which found that people who start using sunbeds under the age of 35 increase their risk of malignant melanoma by 75 per cent.
The survey also found that as many as one in three women questioned had used a sunbed. Overall, for men and women, the figure was one in four.
As a result of the survey Cancer Research UK is today launching its SunSmart campaign with a stark warning to sunbed users that over exposure to UV rays in the tanning salon can prove as dangerous as getting burnt on the beach.
Over exposure to artificial UV in sunbeds is just as dangerous as staying out too long in sun. It is a common misconception that sunbeds have had “harmful rays removed” or that sunbeds are “a safe way to tan”. The intensity of some UV rays from sunbeds can be 10-15 times higher than that of the midday sun.
Repeated exposure to UV damages the DNA in skin cells which increases the risk of skin cancer and makes skin age faster.
Malignant melanoma is now the most common cancer in young adults aged between 15 and 34 and can be fatal. More women are diagnosed with melanoma but more men die from the disease.
In the UK almost 9,000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed each year – and more than 1800 die from the disease each year.
Justine Sheils, a 36-year-old administrator from Liverpool, began using sunbeds when she was 15 so she could get a base tan before summer holidays and then top the tan up when she came home. When she was 32 she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and has since had two major operations to remove cancerous tumours from her chest and the top of her head.
“The tanning salon was near my school and I used to go in for sunbed sessions on my way home,” said Justine. “There was always an occasion like a party or an outing when I had the excuse to top up my tan. Now I see girls of 14 or 15 in their school uniforms going into that same salon I used to use and they come out looking like lobsters.
“They all think something like cancer could never happen to them. But it has happened to me. I get so angry when I hear young celebrities say having a tan makes you look sexy. It’s only when you get older you understand the risks. I just want to do something to warn young people about the possible consequences of using sunbeds. If my story can stop one girl risking melanoma then something good will have come out of my cancer diagnosis.”
Rebecca Russell, Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign manager, said: “The results of our survey make for a stark warning to young people about the dangers of indoor tanning. You can’t always see the damage that UV does straight away. It builds up over time. But every time you use a sunbed you are harming your skin and increasing your risk of skin cancer.
“Our SunSmart campaign has previously focused on the dangers of sunburn which increases your risk of skin cancer. This year our key message is to alert young people about the damage sunbeds can do to their skin, especially if they have fair skin that doesn’t tan easily.”
“Cancer Research UK is particularly concerned about young teenagers using sunbeds and is working with the government to review options for possible regulation of the industry. We would like legislation to prevent under 18s using sunbeds and to ban unmanned coin-operated sunbeds which can attract under-age and vulnerable users.”
Professor Mike Richards, the government’s national cancer director, said: “The Cancer Reform Strategy explained that the number of people getting skin cancer is rising rapidly. It is a matter of particular concern that even children may be getting access to sunbeds and it is also important that they should have information about the dangers of excessive exposure to UV.”