Press release

It’s never safe to use a sunbed says HSE National Cancer Control Programme

The HSE National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) is reminding people that using sunbeds increases the risk of developing skin cancer, as they mark the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014 this week.

Coinciding with the anniversary, the NCCP hosted a risk reduction webinar to provide the latest update to community groups and organisations who work with sunbed users about the dangers associated with sunbed use and Melanotan II (an unlicensed tanning accelerator).

Speaking at the webinar, Professor Shirley Potter, Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon, Mater Hospital, warns: “Skin cancer is a significant public health problem in Ireland. UV exposure is the cause of the majority of skin cancer. There are significant health risks associated with sunbed use including skin cancer and eye damage.”

“It is important to consider safer alternatives and to prioritise long-term skin health over temporary tanning”. For example, alternatives may include use of ‘fake-tan’, but it is important to remember that such products do not offer any sun protection. The SunSmart 5 S’s should still be followed while wearing ‘fake-tan’.

Healthy Ireland survey (2022) findings on sunbed use in Ireland show that:

  • 18% of people have used a sunbed at some point during their life
  • 3% overall report that they use sunbeds either regularly or from time to time
  • current sunbed use is highest among women aged under 45 years of age
  • 4% report they are likely to try sunbeds in the future
  • people aged 15 to 34 years of age are most likely to say they would try sunbeds, with 7% of this age group stating future usage is likely.

The European Commission Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) has stated that there is no safe limit for exposure to UV radiation from sunbeds.

Dr Breeda Neville, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, HSE NCCP, said: “People who have used a sunbed at least once, at any stage in their life, have a 20% higher risk of developing melanoma than those who have never used a sunbed.”

An additional health risk highlighted during the webinar is an unlicensed product Melanotan II, which has been unsafely promoted and sold as a tanning accelerant on various social media platforms and in some sunbed businesses.

Sean Cullen, Enforcement Operations Manager at the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) advised: “Melanotan II is a completely unregulated product and should never be used. In the case of this product, there is absolutely no such thing as legitimate source.  ”

The HSE NCCP coordinates delivery of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2023-2026 which includes developing and delivering an annual SunSmart communications plan. The campaign runs from April to September each year and aims to raise awareness of how people can reduce their risk of skin cancer by protecting their skin from Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other artificial sources such as sunbeds. Sunbed users are a key target audience for communications. Sunbeds emit UV radiation and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. This risk can be avoided by not using sunbeds. There is no such thing as a healthy sun tan.

The Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014 is enforced by the HSE National Environmental Health Service (NEHS). The Act came into effect 10 years ago and was a major public health initiative introduced by the then Minister for Health to help protect children from the dangerous effects of UV radiation. Exposure to UV radiation during childhood is particularly harmful. Children who use sunbeds are much more likely to get melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, when they are adults. The Act ensures that under law no person under 18 years of age can use a sunbed in sunbed premises, that sunbeds cannot be sold or hired to under 18s, that certain marketing practices and health claims are not allowed, and that warning notices are required.

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