Sunbeds, also called tanning beds, are a type of equipment used to achieve that much sought-after tanned look without actually sitting out in the sun. Using sunbeds is hugely popular in countries where insufficient sunlight makes it difficult for people to acquire a tan naturally, such as here in the UK, but what are the risks and benefits of sunbeds?
How Sunbeds Work
The sunbed equipment emits UV-A and UV-B waves, which are natural components of sunlight. These UV-A and UV-B waves boost the production of melanin, the compound that gives the skin that tanned colour.
A timer is set and the user lies on the bed to soak in the UV rays. A typical session lasts about 15-20 minutes and upper limits are set based on the radiation levels of the specific sunbed and approved limits.
Apart from just cosmetic purposes, it is believed that sunbeds can provide several health benefits too. However, there are also a few legitimate concerns with regard to their use.
This article will elucidate the benefits and risks of sunbeds along with proper guidelines to mitigate the risks.
Benefits Of Sunbeds
Help you get that elusive tan
This is the most obvious benefit of sunbeds. Exposure to sunlight – natural or artificial – is the key to a great looking tan. A “healthy” tan is always appreciated and makes you feel good about yourself.
However, in several countries across the world, the weather does not always permit people to expose their skin to the sun’s rays. Sunbeds mimic the UV radiation which the sun provides your body and thus helps you achieve the golden tan you always wanted.
Provides Your Body With Vitamin D
This is another well-known reason for using sunbeds. Most people believe that UV radiation is bad for the skin. This is a huge misconception since UV radiation is only harmful in excess. It is in fact important to expose your body to UV radiation since it helps the body synthesize Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, from its precursor compounds. In the absence of UV radiation, this process is halted and your body does not produce the required amount of Vitamin D.
To give you an idea of how vital Vitamin D is for your body, here is a list of the roles Vitamin D plays in various processes at the cellular and molecular level:
- Maintains bone density and health of teeth
- Is a vital component in the normal working of the brain, the nervous system, and the immune system
- Aids in diabetes management by regulating insulin levels
- Is involved in the expression of genes which regulate cancer cell growth
While it is possible to take supplements to prevent Vitamin D deficiency, using sunbeds allows you to get Vitamin D in a manner that imitates natural processes.
Used In The Treatment Of Certain Skin Conditions
Skin conditions can range from the mildly inconvenient to severely debilitating, like most other conditions. However, even milder skin conditions like acne, vitiligo, and pruritus, it may not only affect you physically but can end up affecting your social life and confidence – which makes them a lot worse than their clinical effects may imply.
It has been shown that exposure to UV radiation in conjunction with medical treatment can help in managing and even curing several skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, pruritus, vitiligo, scleroderma and several UV sensitive dermatoses.
This treatment, called phototherapy, was originally provided in the offices of dermatologists. However, an increasing number of people prefer to turn to sunbeds as a viable alternative due to their accessibility and affordability.
Can Treat Certain Forms Of Depression
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, is a type of depression that occurs in people living in higher latitudes in the winters. Symptoms may include lack of energy, irritability, increased sleepiness, weight gain due to overeating, tiredness, and excessive craving for carbohydrates.
The prevalence of this disorder is thought to be due to the absence of sunlight. It is well known that exposure to sunlight and UV radiation causes the body to react by releasing endorphins that make people feel good. Conversely, lack of this stimulus can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder in people who are prone to it. Sunbeds have been shown to alleviate this condition in some patients.
While there are several benefits of sunbeds, the risks posed by sunbeds cannot be ignored either.
Risks Of Sunbeds
Overexposure To UV Rays
Sunbeds produce the same radiation as the sun, due to which similar precautions have to be taken as when you would venture into the tropical sun. Most users of sunbeds belong to either temperate or frigid zones and are not aware of the precautions which are to be taken when exposed to tropical radiation levels, and often end up overexposing themselves to UV rays.
Premature Aging Of The Skin
Over-exposure to UV has been linked with premature aging of the skin, which gives it a rough, leathery and wrinkled look. This is due to the damaging effect of UV-B radiation.
Increased Risk Of Melanoma
There have been studies which have linked the rising incidences of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, with the increased use of sunbeds. However, several experts claim that the rise in the number of cases was due to improved early detection rates, wrongful diagnosis, and other environmental factors.
Minimising The Risks Of Using Sunbeds
While there are risks of using sunbeds, most of them can be mitigated by being aware and educated with regard to the proper use of sunbeds. The following are a few tips to ensure that you gain all the benefits while minimising the risks involved:
- Never use sunbeds without consulting your doctor. Enquire with a dermatologist with regard to how many session of what duration is right for you depending on your skin type and other related conditions.
- Visit only trusted and licensed tanning therapists and parlours. Most ‘hobbyist’ operators do not have proper knowledge, and their ignorance may cause significant damage to your health which could mean you’d be eligible to make a sunbed compensation claim.
- Limit your sunbed use to 10-15 sessions annually. Never over-do it and never take two sessions within 48 hours of each other.
- Make sure that you are not exposed to direct sunlight on the same day as your treatment as this could increase your risk of over-exposure.