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19 June 2009

COMARE 13th Report: The health effects and risks arising from exposure to ultraviolet radiation from artificial tanning devices


Skin cancer is now the most common form of cancer in the UK, with over 10,400 malignant melanoma cases and at least 81,500 non-melanoma skin cancers recorded in 2006. Intermittent high dose rate UV radiation exposure is associated with increased risk of melanoma at all ages of life.

The association of skin cancer with exposure to the sun has been the subject of a number of campaigns but only recently has similar attention been given to sunbed use. The number of commercial sunbed outlets in the UK is growing. There is evidence of increasing sunbed use by children and young adults in the UK in both supervised and unstaffed (coin operated) commercial outlets.

COMARE has reviewed evidence from a wide range of sources on the health effects and the risks associated with exposure to UV radiation from artificial tanning devices, such as sunbeds. Exposure to UV radiation, whatever the source, is capable of inducing all types of skin cancer, photoageing and other types of medical conditions, such as cataracts. It can also produce severe burns. Current sunbed technology can result in exposure to UV radiation doses greater than that from the midday Mediterranean sun. The health risks associated with sunbed use far outweigh the perceived benefits, the majority of which are psychological and cosmetic. The use of sunbeds is not associated with added protection from sun exposure and the practice of using sunbeds to synthesise vitamin D is not recommended due to the cancer risk and high frequency of side effects.

COMARE recommends that regulation is required on the commercial use of sunbeds. This would include the prohibition of the use of commercial sunbeds by the under 18s and the prohibition on the sale or hire of sunbeds to the under 18s. We also recommend the prohibition of unsupervised use and/or self-determined operation of sunbeds in commercial outlets. All commercial outlets should be licensed and registered, with equipment that adheres to the British Standard and be staffed at all times with trained, competent personnel. We recommend that local authorities should be required to inspect commercial outlets and be provided with sanctioning powers if licensing is introduced. Salons would be required to provide clients with detailed written information on the health risks associated with the use of sunbeds and staff must ensure that adequate protective eyewear is provided for client use. We recommend that commercial outlets and sunbed retailers should be prohibited from promoting unproven or net health benefits of sunbed use.

COMARE recommends that funding for campaigns raising the awareness of risk factors for skin cancer is reviewed in line with other national health campaigns. We recommend that stronger publicity campaigns on the risks from UV exposure should be particularly targeted towards children.

Further research is required into the associated risks of melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers arising from sunbed use. We also recommend additional research into potential eye damage resulting from the use of sunbeds without adequate eye protection. There is a need to establish background knowledge of the psychology for tanning and how behaviour may be changed.


Press enquiries to COMARE Secretariat:  Tel No: 01235-832447


COMARE 13th Report "The health effects and risks arising from the exposure to UV radiation from artificial tanning devices". Chairman: Professor A Elliott. ISBN: 978-0-85951-645-7 (£21.00). Downloads available from and hard copies are available from the Information Office at the Radiation Protection Division of the Health Protection Agency.




In this, the 13th COMARE report, the health effects and risk associated with exposure to UV radiation from artificial tanning devices are reviewed. Over 10,400 cases of malignant melanoma were registered in 2006 and this number continues to rise. High dose rate UV radiation exposure is an important risk factor for melanoma. Current sunbed technology is capable of irradiance levels exceeding the midday Mediterranean sun. The number of commercial sunbed outlets in the UK is estimated at 8,000 and increasing. There is evidence of use of commercial sunbeds by children and young adults. The use of sunbeds is associated with photoaging but not with added protection for sun exposure. COMARE recommends regulation of these services, including the prohibition of commercial use, sale or hire of sunbeds to under 18s; the prohibition of unsupervised or self-determined use of sunbeds; the requirement for operators to provide adequate protective eyewear and for its use to be compulsory; for all staffed salons to be licensed and registered; for detailed written information on the health risks to be provided to clients; for commercial outlets to be prohibited from using information promoting unproven benefits and for all sunbeds to conform to appropriate national standards. We recommend that inspection of outlets should be carried out to determine compliance with regulations. Enforcing authorities should have sanctioning powers if licensing is imposed. Staff at commercial outlets should be trained to a standard level of competence. COMARE recommends that Public Health campaigns on the risks from UV radiation exposure should be enhanced and particular effort should be targeted at children. An appropriate authority should review the advertising by the sunbed industry. COMARE recommends further research into areas such as sunbed use and the risk and aetiology of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs); the correlation between skin damage and sunbed exposure and the psychology of tanning.



he Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) was established in November 1985 in response to the final recommendation of the report of the Independent Advisory Group chaired by Sir Douglas Black (Black, 1984). Its terms of reference are to "assess and advise Government and the Devolved Authorities on the health effects of natural and man-made radiation and to assess the adequacy of the available data and the need for further research". Over the last 20 years COMARE has published many reports and statements relating to radiation health risk, many of which are available on its web site:



Download the 13th Report in Portable Document Format  PDF Document



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