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Over a quarter of Welsh adults are using sunbeds as skin cancer rates rise

NEW data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus has found that 28% of adults in the UK, and 27% of those in Wales, say they use sunbeds. Across the UK it rises to 43% of 18-25 year olds. [1][2]

The research shows that sunbed use is alarmingly high across the UK but that Belfast is the ‘sunbed capital’ with 37% of adults in the city reporting using sunbeds. This compared to 29% of respondents in Cardiff. [3][4]

The charity, along with medical experts, has expressed serious concerns about the high usage of sunbeds and its impact on the rising number of skin cancer cases across the country. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, kills 2,300 people in the UK per year. [5]

In 2009 the World Health Organization classified ultraviolet light emitted from tanning beds as carcinogenic, and placed artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation alongside tobacco and asbestos in the highest category of carcinogen.[6]

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK and it is estimated that, across the country, sunbeds cause about 440 melanomas and around 100 deaths each year. There are now 870 new cases in Wales every year.[7][8][9][10]

The new research found that public awareness of the dangers of sunbed use is low with only 62% of people in the UK (and 67% of those in Wales) knowing that sunbed use increases the risk of skin cancer. This dropped to 52% of 18-25 year olds, very worryingly 23% of whom believe that sunbed use actually decreases the risk of skin cancer. [11]

The high use and lack of awareness of the dangers in younger people is a particular concern as studies have found that first exposure to indoor tanning before age 35 years is associated with a 75% increased risk of developing skin cancer.[12]

Visits to tanning salons are frequent for UK sunbed users with 74% saying they use sunbeds at least once per month, and 53% using them at least once per week. This was lower in Wales at 64% and 33% respectively.[13][14]

Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus, said: “The proliferation of sunbed use across the UK is alarmingly high and it’s shocking that so many people don’t realise how dangerous they are. 

“Melanoma skin cancer rates are rising in the UK and it’s an increasingly serious health concern. The good news is that 86% of melanomas are preventable by avoiding ultraviolet radiation, which comes from the sun or from sunbeds.

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“We strongly advise against using sunbeds in order to protect your skin and reduce your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma or other skin cancers.”

Rebecca Turner, aged 45 from the Vale of Glamorgan, was diagnosed with melanoma in 2022 after noticing a small red spot on her chest which grew into a lump. She said: “I used sunbeds in my early 20s, usually prior to going on a holiday. I had no idea about the risks of skin cancer associated with their use. I probably only used them about 30 times in total but I now know how dangerous they are and wish I had never gone near them. 

“I had several operations to remove the melanoma and check my lymph nodes to hopefully stop the cancer from spreading to my organs. This risk is still there and I have regular full body scans to check for recurrence or spread. 

“I am left with the constant fear of the cancer returning along with an 18cm scar across the top of my chest and a 10cm scar under my arm. I am still awaiting further corrective surgery due to the disfigurement I now have. It’s just not worth it for a tan.” 

Professor Catherine Harwood, Consultant Dermatologist and Melanoma Focus Trustee said: 

“We know that sunbed use is a significant risk factor for developing melanoma.

“Sunbeds emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which damages the DNA of skin cells leading to genetic mutations and other changes that can cause the growth of cancerous cells. 

“It’s very concerning that so many young people are regularly using sunbeds, unaware of the long-term consequences to their health. It is crucial that people understand the dangers of sunbed use and protect their skin from excessive UV radiation to reduce the risk of developing melanoma.”