Public at risk: a survey of sunbed parlour operating practices in Northern Ireland


  • Conflicts of interest
    None declared.

Art O’Hagan.


Background  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation as a class 1 carcinogen. The contribution of sunbeds to malignant melanoma has been estimated at 100 deaths per year in the U.K. The sunbed industry is growing and claims self-regulation.

Objectives  To explore the standards of operation and client protection for sunbed users.

Methods  An observational study of tanning parlour practices was conducted by Environmental Health Practitioners who made unannounced visits to the majority of known commercial tanning parlours in Northern Ireland (population 1·77 million) during July/August 2007. Descriptive statistics were produced and comparisons between groups were made using χ2 analysis.

Results  All 332 premises visited cooperated with the survey. The UV type in machines was unknown in 71·2% of premises while 15·6% reported using type 4, high-dose UV devices; 36·2% of premises did not regularly service sunbeds or were unsure. Unsupervised use of sunbeds was reported in 8·6% of parlours and 3·4% provided a home sunbed service. Eye protection was available in 97·6% of premises but 34·6% charged for the service and only 79·6% sanitized these between use. Of the responders 15·9% were members of the Sunbed Association. These were more likely to have maintenance records and operating manuals but were also more likely to provide a home sunbed service.

Conclusions  This study highlights the need for improved standards of regulation of the sunbed industry to protect clients from excessive and dangerous levels of UV radiation in a population where the numbers of melanomas continue to rise.