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Is it safe to use sunbeds?: Assessing the health implications of UV exposure

Press Release

Is it safe to use sunbeds?

Assessing the health implications of UV exposure

Brussels, 5 September 2007

Although the use of sunbeds has some positive health effects, it is likely to increase the risk of skin and possibly eye cancer. This is one of the conclusions of an opinion issued by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP), the Opinion on Biological effects of ultraviolet radiation relevant to health with particular reference to sunbeds for cosmetic purposes, which assesses the general health and safety implications of exposure of persons to natural and artificial ultraviolet radiation.

At the request of the European Commission DG Health and Consumer Protection, GreenFacts has faithfully summarised this opinion on sunbeds and ultraviolet radiation. A short summary of the opinion is now available in English, French, German, and Spanish. The full summary is available in GreenFacts' copyrighted Three-Level Structure of increasing detail on the website of the DG Health and Consumer Protection.

Highlights of the SCCP Opinion

Developed in the 1970s, sunbeds came into widespread use in the 1990s. They emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation to achieve a tan, which appears after a few exposures and becomes more intense with additional exposures.

Though the use of sunbeds might have some health benefits, such as higher levels of vitamin D, it can also cause undesirable skin reactions, increase the risk of skin and eye cancer, and cause the skin to age prematurely.

People who should be advised not to use sunbeds include:

  • individuals with known risk factors for skin cancer, such as those with sensitive skin types, freckles, unusual or multiple moles, or a family history of melanoma, and
  • individuals under the age of 18 years, since the risk of skin cancer seems to be particularly high when sunbeds are used at a young age.

Individuals who do use sunbeds should wear eye protection during the tanning sessions.

Safe limits for preventing short-term effects of UV radiation from sunbeds, such as sunburn, depend on skin type. The dose of UV radiation received during each tanning session should be small enough to avoid sunburn. Rather than having a very short tanning session with high-intensity radiation, it is recommended to have a sunbed session of at least 10 minutes with a more moderate level of radiation in order to minimize the risk of sunburn resulting from possible timing errors. In any case, sunbeds should not emit more UV radiation than tropical sun.

At present, it is not possible to give a safe limit for preventing long-term effects such as skin cancer because there is no known dose below which there is no risk of developing cancer.

About GreenFacts

GreenFacts asbl/vzw is an independent, multi-stakeholder non-profit organization based in Belgium. Our mission is to bring complex scientific reports on health and the environment to the reach of non-experts.

We publish faithful summaries of authoritative international scientific reports. The summaries are written in a language for non-specialists and presented in a reader-friendly Three-Level Structure of increasing detail. GreenFacts’ publications are freely available in several languages on www.greenfacts.org.

GreenFacts was created in 2001 by individuals from scientific institutions, environmental and health organizations, and businesses, who called for wider access to unbiased information on health and the environment.

About SCCP

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) was set up in 2004 by the European Commission to provide the Commission with scientific advice on the safety of consumer products (non-food products intended for the consumer). The SCCP advice is intended to enable risk managers to take the adequate and required actions in order to guarantee consumer protection.

The SCCP addresses questions in relation to the safety and allergenic properties of cosmetic products and ingredients with respect to their impact on consumer health. It also covers products such as toys, textiles, clothing, personal care products, and domestic products such as detergents, as well as consumer services such as tattooing.

About DG Health and Consumer Protection

The role of Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General is to make Europe's citizens healthier, safer and more confident. Over the years the European Union has established EU laws on the safety of food and other products, on consumers' rights and on the protection of people's health. The DG Health and Consumer Protection has the task of keeping these laws up to date.
It also ensures that the national, regional or even local governments in EU countries apply the EU's health and consumer protection laws and make sure traders, manufacturers and food producers in their country observe the rules.

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For further details contact

Stephanie Mantell
Tel: +32(0)2 211 3489