Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Children and sunbeds

Legislation is needed to stop children using sunbeds

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 12 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4643
  1. Catherine S Thomson, head of statistical information1,
  2. Chris Twelves, professor of clinical pharmacology and oncology2
  1. 1Cancer Research UK, Statistical Information Team, London WC2A 3PX
  2. 2Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine and St James’s Institute of Oncology, Level 4, Bexley Wing, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF
  1. Catherine.Thomson{at}

    Spence extols the joy of sunny days,1 but sunbeds raise serious issues. A recent meta-analysis showed sunbed use before the age of 35 was associated with an increased relative risk of 75% for developing malignant melanoma (absolute risks were not recorded).2

    Cancer Research UK recently carried out two large, face to face surveys of sunbed use in over 9000 children aged 11-17 in England.3 The first, a national prevalence study of 3101 children, established that 6% of 11-17 year olds had used a sunbed, the mean age of first use being just 14. Sunbed use was more common in older children and girls (table), and in the north compared with the rest of England (11% and 4% of children, respectively) and among deprived communities. More than a quarter (26.5% (95% confidence interval 20.1% to 32.8%)) said that they used a sunbed at least once a month.

    Use of sunbeds: nationally, by age, by sex, and by city

    View this table:

    In the second, six cities, study of 6209 children sunbed use was highest in Liverpool and Sunderland, reaching 51% and 48%, respectively among 15-17 year old girls, with over 40% using them weekly.

    Supervision of sunbed use was poor. Nationally, of those children who used sunbeds, 23.2% (17.2% to 29.3%) did so at home. The remaining three quarters had used tanning/beauty salons or gym/leisure centres, where 21.8% (15.0% to 28.6%) had been unsupervised; only 11.4% (4.4% to 18.4%) of children who were supervised were warned of possible harms.

    This rate of sunbed use would lead to more than an estimated quarter of a million 11-17 year olds being put at increased risk of developing malignant melanoma. Legislation to control sunbed use is already in place in Scotland and proposed for Wales. National legislation to limit access to sunbed salons to those over 18, and close down unsupervised or coin operated salons, is required to stop more children being put at unnecessary risk of developing skin cancer.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4643


    • Competing interests: None declared.


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