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Sunbeds – the myths and the facts

The Sunbed Association

5 min read Partner content

Professional sunbeds help people to tan “responsibly” without burning, says The Sunbed Association

With the summer months approaching, the UK sunbed industry is determined to dispel the “entrenched myths” surrounding the use of indoor tanning equipment.

The Sunbed Association (TSA), which represents professional tanning salon operators in the UK and Ireland, as well as manufacturers and distributors of indoor tanning equipment, wants to see much greater understanding of ultraviolet (UV) exposure, tanning and sunbed use.

It says that many of the negative “myths” associated with sunbed use are either out of date, flawed or are not relevant to the UK market.

The association points out that today’s sunbed industry is very different to that of decades ago. Its members are professional, well-regulated operators who run their businesses according to a strict code of practice, thereby ensuring that customers are able to tan responsibly without burning.

TSA highlights the fact that while sunbathing is often portrayed as something to be avoided at all costs, exposure to UV is crucial for all of us. Yes, taking proper care in the sun is extremely important but in the past few years a number of studies have suggested that regular, moderate exposure to UV light is beneficial.

Vitamin D is a nutrient that we all need to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy and sunlight is the natural way we produce it. Our bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin – in fact sunbeds were originally invented to trigger vitamin D production in light-deprived Northern European countries.

An international factsheet on sunbeds produced by TSA and the European Sunlight Association says that “sun avoidance has been repeatedly proven as harmful, as sunlight helps to keep healthy vitamin D levels in the blood, along with other photoproducts like nitric oxide, which fights chronic diseases like hypertension and arteriosclerosis”.

Among the most common claims that TSA refutes is the assertion that sunbeds emit UV levels that are 10 to 15 times higher than the Mediterranean sun. The association says that this is a misconception and that UV emitted from sunlight and sunbeds are more similar than is generally thought. However, the difference is that UV from a sunbed can be easily controlled by trained, industry-certified operators to avoid overexposure.

“Modern sunbeds are required to have a maximum UV irradiance level of 0.3W/m2,” says TSA. “This is the equivalent minute for minute to the Mediterranean summer sun. The average sunbed session is 12 minutes long and is designed to tan, not burn.”

TSA also addresses the much-debated question of whether there is a link between sunbed use and skin cancer.

It says there is no evidence that “moderate use of a professional compliant sunbed” will increase the risk of melanoma and argues that studies suggesting otherwise have been independently and scientifically reviewed and found to be flawed. It also cites past research showing that indoor workers who receive less UV exposure get more melanomas than outdoor workers exposed to more regular sun.

TSA insists that the idea that sunbeds are not a safe alternative to sunbathing is misguided. In its view, sunbeds are safe – as long as they are operated within regulation guidelines and by professional tanning studios. 

“Under professional supervision, professional compliant sunbeds provide a specific dose of UV in a controlled environment, avoiding the risk of burning,” says the association. “UV levels from the sun will vary significantly according to geographical location, time of year, time of day and other factors.”

But it warns that while tanning is “the body’s natural reaction to gradual, moderate UV exposure”, burning is an uncontrolled, over-exposure to UV and must always be avoided.

With this distinction in mind, TSA says that a few sessions on a sunbed before jetting off to the sunshine can help to prepare your skin for the intensity of the summer sun. There is an important caveat though. Even if you have used a sunbed in advance of your trip it is still crucial to wear appropriate sun protection at all times, seek the shade and most important of all, avoid burning.  

Sunbeds are not for everyone though. Despite its campaign to show that sunbeds can be enjoyed in moderation, TSA explains that they are not suitable for all.

People who should not use a sunbed include under-18s, skin type 1s (those with very pale skin who burn easily), those on medication or who have a medical condition that makes their skin more sensitive to UV light, those who have a significant number of moles, those with a history of skin cancer and those with an immediate family member who either has or has had melanoma. Equally, these people should not sunbathe either.


  1. International Factsheet on Sunbeds - European Sunlight Association European Sunlight Association
  2. Sunlight-and-Sunbeds.pdf (europeansunlight.eu)

For any further information about The Sunbed Association, indoor tanning in general and our aim to promote responsible UV exposure, please contact TSA’s General Manager, Gilly Perkins on 020 8398 3111 or gillperkins@sunbedassociation.org.uk

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