Home Lifestyle Endangering your life for vanity? The Brits who can’t stop using sunbeds

Endangering your life for vanity? The Brits who can’t stop using sunbeds

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Metro speaks to two women who constantly feel the temptation of a sunbed (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I grew up in the 1980s when glossy magazines were full of bronzed supermodels like Cindy Crawford – the “it” look was tanned and slim,’ says Katherine Teal.

Growing up in Newcastle meant hot weather wasn’t the norm and Katherine, now 55, wanted to emulate this look.

‘I started using sunbeds as a teenager when my mum’s friend hired one,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘We all wanted to look more attractive and, at that time, looking and feeling good meant having a tan.’

With easy access to a sunbed and being unaware of the risks associated with them back in the 80s, Katherine loved using them because she felt they cleared her skin too.

It was the new craze at the time and everyone was doing it. The now mum-of-one would use a sunbed every day or every couple of days.

‘I used it more regularly if I was planning to go to an event or on holiday, or even if I just thought I looked a bit pale and tired. It would give me a pick me up,’ she explains.

Katherine used sunbeds for more than two decades and can’t say she won’t use them again (Picture: Katherine Teal)

Katherine used sunbeds until she hit her forties, but hasn’t used one for the past nearly 15 years. For all those years, she felt the negatives of UV were outweighed by the positives.

‘My skin wasn’t good in my twenties and the sunbed cleared it up. I felt more confident and healthy. My clothes looked better and my eyes clearer and my teeth looked whiter,’ Kath says.

‘It’s the same as when you have a natural tan. The benefit of a sunbed was that you didn’t get burnt and it was a more even, all over tan.’

Since becoming more educated on the risks of UV exposure and sunbeds, like melanoma and premature ageing, Katherine has opted for other tanning methods.

She says: ‘I still feel tempted but I know that it’s not worth it. You can also get false tan creams and spray tans and bronzers now, but there’s also more of an acceptance of natural, paler looking skin.’

While she thankfully hasn’t had any health scares, it’s ‘always at the back of [her] mind that [she] may have caused herself harm’.



Types of melanoma:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma: These marks or moles typically have irregular borders and uneven pigmentation. This is the most common type of melanoma skin cancer.
  • Nodular melanomas: These present as a raised, nodular lesion with irregular patches of colour and an irregular border. They are most common on the head, back and chest and may bleed or ooze. Some nodular melanomas have no pigmentation.
  • Lentigo maligna melanomas: They begin flat and look like a large, dark freckle. They grow outwards and may change shape. They may then grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin and form a lump.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma: It may appear as a streak in a nail – often brownish or black. On the palms or soles of the feet, acral lentiginous melanoma may be noticed by changes to a spot or mole. It could be an irregularly-shaped growth, that changes or is a different colour or present as a raised patch of thicker skin.
  • Amelanotic melanoma: It has little or no colour. These melanomas can be pink or red, and as they are not the typical brown or black colour, they can be difficult to diagnose.

‘If I get a mole on my skin I’m quite anxious about it and get it checked out because of the damage I may have done. I know people who died of skin cancer and it really makes you think,’ she says.

If she knew what she knows now, would Katherine have used sunbeds in her youth?

‘I would still want to look tanned and it would be tempting, but I think knowing the danger would stop me, or at least I would use them very infrequently,’ she says.

‘But then it’s only a temporary tan and it’s going to fade, so what is the point of endangering my life for vanity?

‘I can’t say I will never go on one again but I hope I am sensible enough to resist.’

Like Katherine, 23-year-old Freya Gibson also knows the risks, but has been using sunbeds since she was 18.

Freya began using sunbeds as soon as it was legal for her to do so (Picture: Freya Gibson)

‘I started because my friends were using them and I wanted to be more tanned before going on holiday,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I used to go every other day, but now I use sunbeds about twice a week.’

The last time Freya tanned in a sunbed was two days ago and while she’s aware of the risks it hasn’t stopped her. ‘I am scared of using the sunbeds but it has become slightly addictive since I’ve been seeing the results,’ she says.

‘When you hear horror stories of melanoma it does put me off, and I’ll stop going for a month or so, but then I’ll start back up again because I’ll want to be tanned. It’s a vicious cycle’.

Freya admits that she loves seeing how it cleared her acne and claims it makes her skin feel better.

Freya in the tanning bed which she uses twice a week (Picture: Freya Gibson)

‘This for me boosts my mood, because it’s like going on a mini holiday. You look good so you feel happy,’ she adds.

While she hasn’t had any health scares yet, some of Freya’s friends have when a new mole has developed or changed shape.

‘Sometimes if there’s a new mark on my body, I will fixate on it for days and wonder if that’s because of the sunbed. My friends have been to check their moles at the doctors but I haven’t,’ she says.

Freya hopes to stop using sunbeds eventually but not yet.

‘There aren’t many measures in place to tell you to stop using them, so my friends and I are like “why not?”

‘I think until something really scares me, I’ll continue to use them.’

Freya doesn’t think she’ll stop using sunbeds unless she has a health scare (Picture: Freya Gibson)

Freya and Katherine certainly aren’t alone in their love for sunbeds. This is the attitude of many Brits, with more than a quarter of UK adults using sunbeds.

Melanoma Focus also found that nearly half (43%) of 18 to 25-year-olds in the UK use sunbeds.

This is particularly alarming when you consider that using tanning beds before the age of 35 is associated with a 75% increased risk of developing skin cancer.

This risk increases with each use. In the UK, UV radiation from sunbeds, the sun and lamps is the number one cause of skin cancer, and the third biggest cause of cancer.

Despite nine in 10 cases of melanoma being preventable by avoiding UV exposure, people are not being deterred from using them. It’s estimated that, across the country, sunbeds cause about 440 melanomas and around 100 deaths each year.



The ABCDE Method:

This simple guide is used by skin specialists to help patients understand what they should be looking out for.

  • A – asymmetry, when half the mole doesn’t match the other
  • B – border, when the outline of the mole is irregular, ragged or blurred
  • C – colour, when it varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform colour
  • D – diameter, if it’s greater than 6mm
  • E – evolving, or changes in the mole.

If you check your moles for these five points it can help you stay on top of any issues. But there is no substitute for having an appointment with a specialist, who will examine your skin and discuss any area of concern.

Amy Hirst, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘UV radiation is given off by sunbeds and it damages the DNA in your skin cells.

‘The build up of that over time is what leads to skin cancer. Some sunbeds may be marketed as a way of getting a safer tan, but there is no such thing as safe tanning from ultraviolet radiation.’

If you notice an unusual change in your skin, it’s important to get checked out by a doctor. Amy says if you get a new mark or mole, or if a mole you’ve had for a while has changed and looks sore, is itchy, bleeding or crusty, you must get it checked out.

With a projected 28,800 cases of skin cancer predicted this year, experts are encouraging everyone to avoid UV radiation wherever they can – this means no sunbeds.

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