Banning sun beds in UK ‘would save thousands of lives from deadliest form of cancer’

Banning tanning beds would prevent thousands of skin cancer deaths and save the NHS millions of pounds, a study claims.

Researchers from the University of Manchester tracked the projected impact of the move on the more than 600,000 18-year-olds living in England.

Their modelling suggested an outright ban on indoor sunbeds would result in over 1,000 fewer cases of melanoma and 200 fewer melanoma deaths in their lifetimes.

The policy, if applied solely to people aged 18, would also save the NHS £700,000, according to the report.

But in reality, the lives spared and money saved may be far greater when the effects on all age groups are factored in, the experts claim. 

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not caught early.

Six Britons die from the disease every day, with tanning beds estimated to be behind around 100 fatalities per year.

Researchers from the University of Manchester tracked the projected impact of the move on the more than 600,000 18-year-olds living in England. Their modelling suggested an outright ban on indoor sunbeds would result in over 1,000 fewer cases of melanoma and 200 fewer melanoma deaths in their lifetimes

In 2009, the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) put indoor tanning beds into its highest risk category for the disease.

Too much ultraviolet exposure from the sun or sunbeds can damage the DNA in our skin cells, with sunbeds typically emitting more intense UV radiation.

If enough DNA damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.

Sunbeds are thought to raise the risk of skin cancer of any type by up to 60 per cent.

But around one in 10 UK adults are still regular sunbed users. It is also estimated that more than 60,000 children under 18 use them illegally.

The team at Manchester used the 618,000 18-year-olds living in England in 2019 as the target group in their study.

They built a mathematical model using data on skin cancer mortality and diagnosis, sunbed popularity, and the risk of melanomas attributed to their use.

The researchers assumed that an outright ban on sunbeds would result in sunbed use among 18-year-olds dropping to just 2 per cent.

Results showed there would be 4.8 per cent fewer fewer cases of melanoma, or 1,206, in their lifetime and  4.6 per cent fewer melanoma deaths, or 207.

It would also result in 3,987 fewer cases of other more common types of skin cancer, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, the researchers claim.  

Professor Paul Lorigan, an oncologist and lead author of the study, said: ‘If the NHS invested in a public health campaign to support the ban on sunbeds, we estimate that melanoma and other skin cancers would be significantly reduced, NHS resources would be saved and deaths averted.

‘It is quite clear that melanoma and keratinocyte skin cancers have a significant impact on population health and healthcare budgets, and that a proportion are attributable to indoor tanning. 

‘Anyone who has used a sunbed increases their risk of melanoma by almost 60 per cent.

‘We show quite conclusively for the first time that banning indoor tanning supported by a public health campaign would be an efficient use of healthcare resources to reduce melanoma and other skin cancers in England.

‘Our findings agree with calculations of future productivity losses that were caused by these diseases in the USA in mainly young people in 2015 after exposure to tanning devices. 

‘There the total economic losses amounted to over $US127 billion over the individuals’ lifetimes.’

In England, sunbed use is especially high in the north-west and in cities with greater social deprivation.

Their popularity is thought to partly explain the unusually high rates of melanoma seen among young women living in the North West.

Professor Adele Green from The University of Manchester and the CRUK Manchester Institute added: ‘We already know that indoor tanning devices are strongly linked to melanoma and other skin cancers with resulting morbidity, mortality and increased healthcare costs.

‘But policy-makers require robust economic evidence to inform decisions about a possible ban of such devices to mitigate these burdens. We feel we have succeeded in providing that evidence.’

Susanna Daniels, CEO at Melanoma Focus said: ‘This research is further evidence of the negative public health impact of sunbeds. I am thrilled that Melanoma Focus are supporting this project by funding the validation of UK costs of the melanoma diagnostic and treatment pathway.

‘For individuals, sunbed use dramatically increases the risk of developing melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The rates of melanoma skin cancer are increasing in the UK yet 86 per cent of cases are preventable. We strongly advise the avoidance of sunbeds.’

Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.  


  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk


This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 


  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society