When it comes to tanning, the UK is a nation obsessed.
Sales of self-tanners — including lotions, milks, and mousses — are currently through the roof. In fact, researchers at the NPD Group reported that the faux-tan market was worth an enormous £5.9 million (around $7.8 million USD) in 2017, all thanks to brilliant advances in tanning technology. Gone are the days where getting a safe tan meant risking telltale streaky limbs and patchy hands.
So why, when there's an entire market dedicated to giving you a bronze glow akin to spending two weeks in the Maldives within minutes, are British women still using tanning beds?
Despite the known risks, Mintel reported that 10% of UK consumers aged 25-44 used a tanning bed in the 12 months leading up to September 2017 — and that's a huge cause for concern. According to London-based dermatologist Justine Kluk, the contribution of tanning beds to malignant melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer, has been estimated at 100 deaths per year in the UK, and Cancer Research reports that higher tanning bed use among young females than young males may explain their higher incidence of melanoma. "Cancer Research UK confirms that using a [tanning bed] increases the risk of melanoma by as much as 16-20%," Dr. Kluk says, "while the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation as a class 1 carcinogen."
"Most dermatologists will see patients in their clinics who have developed skin cancer or premature skin aging as a direct effect of having used tanning beds," continues Dr. Kluk, who also says that she'd like to see them banned in the UK. "With moles, concern arises when any new or existing mole increases in size or changes in shape or color, particularly if darker colors start to appear. Persistent itching or bleeding from a mole are also indicators that an urgent visit to the GP or dermatologist is needed."
Interestingly, it isn't just a goddess-like glow women are after: If you have acne or psoriasis, or suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, you may have come across information (likely unregulated) that lists tanning-bed use as an appropriate solution — but the experts say otherwise. "There are no health benefits to using tanning beds at home or in a salon," Dr. Kluk says. "Vitamin D can be obtained through diet or supplementation, so this argument doesn’t stand up." And the same goes for acne.
"We are most likely to enjoy sunny conditions when we’re on holiday, away from work and generally feeling less stressed about life," says Dr. Kluk. "These factors may be more relevant than the sunshine itself in improving breakouts. While I have heard people say that their spots genuinely improve in the sun, the problem with this is that there are much safer and more effective ways to treat breakouts than exposing our skin to UV rays, and it is never advisable to use tanning beds as a way of controlling spots, because the risk of skin cancer outweighs any benefit."
As for psoriasis? Dr. Kluk suggests that we might be confusing tanning-bed usage with the expert-approved treatment of phototherapy — and it's doing our skin much more harm than good.
"Phototherapy utilizes particular wavelengths of UV radiation that have been shown in medical studies to reduce inflammation in the skin. It is a strictly-regulated hospital treatment prescribed by dermatologists on a case-by-case basis for people with moderate to severe psoriasis or eczema that haven’t been satisfactorily controlled with first-line therapies, such as creams," explains Dr. Kluk. The important difference? "The dose of UV is carefully measured and calibrated during phototherapy and the number of overall treatments in a lifetime are restricted to prevent any unacceptable rise in the risk of skin cancer."
Put simply, the argument that tanning beds cure psoriasis is defunct. "It is never a good idea to experiment with tanning beds for psoriasis on your own, as settings and conditions will vary from the safe parameters used in hospitals," adds Dr. Kluk. "If you have any questions about this, or any other skin conditions, please do discuss it with your GP or a consultant dermatologist."
Click through to read six British women’s experiences with tanning beds…