The Truth About Sun Beds: Why Irish Women Are *Still* Hooked On Tanning

Megan Roantree investigates why smart, savvy women are still using sun beds in 2017.

Woman using a sunbed

Megan Roantree investigates why smart, savvy women are still using dangerous sun beds in 2017

As much as we are encouraged to love the skin we’re in, sometimes a healthy looking tan can make us feel more confident. Some people head for a spray tan or opt for the bottle, but many people are still choosing sun beds to achieve their desired look. Sure, it’s quick and it’s cheap, but it’s also really dangerous. Heading to the beds isn’t a new phenomenon, as there was a peak of interest for them in Ireland in the 80s. But since then plenty of health warnings and regulations have been put in place. When it’s no secret that sun beds are harmful, why are we still using them?

In many cases of putting your health at risk, ignorance really is bliss, so is it that we’re still using sun beds because we don’t understand just how dangerous they really are? “A sun bed’s UV radiation is about 15 times stronger than the Mediterranean sun,” says Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager with the Irish Cancer Society. “The danger of sun beds is the intensity. The UV radiation from sun beds has no equivalent in nature, it’s powerful and penetrates deeply. While some of the skin will recover, some of the DNA will be permanently damaged so it begins the process in the risk of skin cancer.”

“I go 4 or 5 times a week… and would normally do about 10 minutes each go…”

Due to their popularity three decades ago, it’s slightly easier to understand why women in their 40s and 50s are still using sun beds, out of sheer habit. But what’s this generation’s excuse? Rachel, 23, uses them frequently between spring and autumn. “I go 4 or 5 times a week starting from February until September/October and I would normally do about 10 minutes each go. I started them when I was 18, I was going on holiday and I wanted a base because I would have normally burned if I was out in the sun and sun beds prevent that from happening.”

And although she is aware of the dangers, she said using tanning beds doesn’t worry her at all. “I know they are not ideal but sure everything you do nowadays has risks, I feel great when I use them so I try not to worry about it.”

It’s difficult to comprehend that we do it for cosmetic purposes, considering the damage it can do to the appearance of our skin alone, and because false tan has become so sophisticated and eejit-proof in recent years.

“Even one sun bed session can increase your risk of developing skin cancer by 67 per cent…”

“Your skin can be permanently damaged. This means sagging, wrinkling and brown spots,” the Cancer Prevention Manager explains. While many things we consume are classed as carcinogenic, sun beds have an undeniably high risk of skin cancer. Kevin stresses that “even one” sun bed session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 67 per cent and basal cell skin cancer by 29 per cent.

“Even with melanoma, which is a more serious type of skin cancer, your risk increases by 20 per cent after even one session.”And if you’re under the age of thirty-five your risk is even higher – using beds before this age increases your risk by a staggering almost 60 per cent.

So what’s the likelihood of these clear, concise statistics scaring regular sun bed users off? “I didn’t know actual figures but I knew it increases the chance of cancer,” Rachel says.  “But you get cancer from everything these days. Sure they say even bacon gives you cancer, so you can’t win!” 

 “It does bother me slightly but not too much, I love the colour I get from them.”

Sarah, 23, who is also a regular sun bed user said that although she’s aware they’re ‘very dangerous’ she doesn’t think she’ll stop. “It does bother me slightly but not too much, I love the colour I get from them.”

Thankfully, there has been a decline in the number of sun bed salons in Ireland since 2014 thanks to strict legislation. In 2014 the Public Heath (Sun beds) act put rules in place in an attempt to reduce the number of people using the machines. This means that it is illegal to sell or hire a sun bed to any person under 18 years of age or to allow a person under 18 years of age use a sun bed on a sun bed premises.

“What accompanied that legislation was a lot of awareness and information, so we do know that there has been a decline in the number of sun bed establishments but there are still about 570 establishments in the country. This is a decline of about 20-30 per cent,” Kevin explained.

But it’s not enough. The government puts such an emphasis on highlighting the dangers of binge drinking and smoking, and now there’s a huge push on tackling obesity. Sunbeds are also hugely dangerous but thought about much more casually, so perhaps it’s just a case of education. Well, consider this a schooling. If you want to avoid getting cancer in your lifetime, avoiding sun beds full stop is a pretty good way to start.

This article first appeared in the September issue of STELLARMagazine. Our October issue is on shelves now.

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