Sun Tanning Beds - A Tribute to Skin Cancer?
The jury is definitely still out on the hotly debated issue of whether or not sun beds are safe. Some say they're a convenient and harmless way of tanning without spending hours frying in the sun. Others say they cause skin cancer and should be banned.
Certainly you would be hard pushed to find anyone in the medical profession advocating the use of a sun bed for cosmetic purposes. But the lucrative sun bed industry argues that there is no evidence to link the use of tanning beds with skin cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) accepts that, as yet, there is no real evidence to link sun beds with skin cancer. But it points out that sun beds are a relatively new phenomenon and perhaps the effects won't be seen for many years.
It also has to be borne in mind that the people who use sun beds are more likely to sunbathe as well. So if skin cancer does develop, should we blame the sun bed or the sun?
Kathy Banks, secretary of the British based Sunbed Association (TSA) says: "Let us be clear that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the responsible use of sun beds alone contributes to health concerns, including skin cancer."
Nowadays artificial tanning is a huge industry generating mega bucks. In America alone it's worth in excess of $1 billion per year and in Northern Europe around 10% of people use sun beds regularly.
So what is it about sun beds that, in the minds of many, is so dangerous?
Possible Danger of Sun Beds
Sun beds use both UVA and UVB light to promote a tan. It's widely accepted that UVA can age the skin while UVB is the burning ray which can lead to skin cancer. So, according to the medical profession, using a sun bed is just like sitting out in the sun. Also, over exposure to UVA can damage the retina in the eyes and burn the cornea - the intensity of sun bed light is said to be much greater than similar rays from the sun.
Sun beds have also been medically proven as unsuitable for some people - a fact that responsible tanning operators warn their customers about. Youngsters under 16 with delicate skin, those with certain illnesses such as epilepsy, pregnant women, people on medications (such as antihistamines) which could increase sensitivity to UV should all avoid using sun beds.
But according to the tanning industry sun beds can be beneficial for many people. UV light, whether natural or artificial, helps produce vitamin D. This is essential for developing bones and teeth and promoting a healthy immune and nervous system. And from a psychological point of view, having a tan makes many people feel good about themselves which can, in itself, promote an overall sense of physical well being.
Rightly or wrongly the tanning industry argues that it's far more dangerous to spend the majority of the year indoors then fry on a beach for two weeks than it is to tan on a sun bed in a controlled environment. Responsible tanning salons recommend no more than two 10 course sessions a year.
WHO takes the view that sun beds are widely available and large numbers of people are determined to use them. So health organizations need to work with the industry to provide guidance on how people can reduce their risk of skin cancer by using tanning beds properly.
At the moment the tanning industry is relatively unregulated. Coin operated tanning booths can pop up anywhere and anyone can use them without supervision. WHO is calling for governments to legislate the operation of sun beds so they are used responsibly.