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Sunbeds: The Dark Side of Tanning

Sunbeds: The Dark Side of Tanning

Tanning salons, spas or even in your local gym.. Sunbeds are everywhere and promise sun-worshippers an all-year-round golden glow. But be warned, they can be REALLY bad for our skin. UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburn) are forbidden in tanning booths, so our skin gets bombarded with UVA rays - equivalent to a scorching tropical sun. Skin-wise, melanin production surges in order to protect us from these UVA rays, resulting in a sun tan. Current regulations state that sunbeds can go up to a level of UV 12 (deemed 'extreme' by the WHO), which is the equivalent of basking under a Caribbean sun. Except that when we're lazing on a beach we apply sunscreen, wear hats or spend time in the shade - things we don't do when roasting ourselves in tanning booth. Which means our skin's in danger.

Even if they don't use UVB rays, sunbed UV rays can still cause skin to heat up, the twist being that they're fitted with fans, so we don't feel it happen. This means that after a session we can find ourselves with uncomfortably hot, red skin. Even worse, an American study found that sunbed users are 1.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer (a serious form) and 2.5 more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma - the most skin cancer. Meanwhile in Europe, a study found a direct link between sunbeds and the appearance of melanomas, the most deadly of skin cancers. The French 'Institut de veille sanitaire' (equivalent to the UK's NICE) reported that the risk of developing a melanoma by the age of 60 rises by 75% if we use sunbeds before the age of 35.

It's also been shown that the UV's used for sunbeds and tanning booths produce free radicals that not only damage our skin cells, but may even attack their DNA structure. In other words, they harm skin cells responsible for the production of melanin, collagen and elastin. The result? Premature skin ageing with an increase in wrinkles, furrowed lines, saggy skin and a dull complexion. And, as with natural sunshine, sunbed UV rays can cause hard-to-shift age spots to crop up all over our bodies.

In order to protect itself from the sun, our skin thickens and produces more melanin. However our skin doesn't thicken during sunbed sessions. We may bronze quicker, but our skin's left far more vulnerable. So it's important to know that sunbeds don't stimulate defence mechanisms against the sun, meaning we should still religiously apply a sunscreen when out and about. What's more sunbathing on top of sun-bedding only multiplies the harmful consequences.

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to strong UV rays weakens our immune system. UV exposure increases the risk of viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, not least because these rays reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Forbidden in Brazil and Australia, there are now calls for sunbeds to be banned in the UK - a stance that several local authorities have already adopted.

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