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Ultraviolet Radiation

Characteristics of application and its use

Sunbeds (also known as tanning beds or solaria) are sources of artificial UV exposure that provide an indoor means for people to acquire a tan for cosmetic purposes. Over recent decades the sunbed industry has flourished and sunbeds have become very popular among adolescents and young adults, especially young women, in USA, Canada and Northern and Western Europe.

Different types of tanning units have different spectral emissions. The two main categories of units are low-pressure fluorescent tubes, emitting mostly UVA with some UVB and filtered, high-pressure lamps, emitting virtually only UVA or a mixture of UVA and UVB. Evidence of the detrimental health effects to the skin and eye of long-term UVA as well as UVB, has led the sunbed industry to increase the UVB content in the emission spectrum so that it is closer to natural sun exposure (even though this varies by location, season and time of day). Since only UVB causes long-lasting tanning, higher content of UVB emissions allow tanning to be achieved after shorter periods of exposure. Scientific evidence shows that artificial tanning poses similar health risks whether UVA-dominated or UVB-dominated sources are used.

UV effects on the body and health implications

Exposure to UV from sunbeds (or other tanning appliances) causes the same harmful health effects as exposure to solar UV. For the skin these effects range from sunburn and photosensitization from certain products like perfumes and lotions in the short-term to photoaging and increased risk of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Harmful effects to the eye can include acute inflammation of the cornea in the short-term and cataract of the lens with longer-term exposure, unless protective eyewear with side protection is worn. Health risks are greater for younger users (adolescence), and with high frequency of sunbed use.


ICNIRP recommends against the use of sunbeds for tanning purposes. Because of their high risk of adverse health effects from UV radiation, minors under 18 years of age and people who have a fair skin that is prone to sunburn or those who have large numbers of naevi (moles) are particularly advised against their use. Many countries have enacted legislation to regulate or ban sunbed use altogether (in order to limit vulnerable people’s exposure to artificial UV radiation for cosmetic reasons).

Where access to sunbeds is permitted, health warnings and safety information should be provided to users before tanning; UV-protective goggles should be provided and worn during use; operating staff should receive appropriate training and certification. Health educators should also warn young people in particular that their use of sunbeds for short-term cosmetic tanning substantially raises their risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancer.

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