Skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Indoor tanning is a totally avoidable risk behaviour. This review addresses the specific characteristics of sunbed users and the differences in motivation and risk perception compared with non-users. This review is based solely on empirical original articles. Based on literature searches with widely used reference databases (‘PubMed’, ‘OVID’, ‘Social Citation Index’, ‘ERIC – Educational Resources Information Center’, ‘Web of Science’ and the ‘International Bibliography of the Social Sciences’), we included studies from developed nations with a publication date between 1 January 2000 and 12 August 2008. All studies were selected, classified and coded simultaneously by both authors on a blinded basis. All searches were performed on 13 and 14 August 2008. In accordance with the QUOROM and the MOOSE Statements, we identified 16 original studies. The typical sunbed user is female, between 17 and 30 years old, and tends to live a comparatively unhealthy lifestyle: Users smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol more frequently and eat less healthy food than non-users. Users are characterized by a lack of knowledge about health risks of UVR, and prompted by the frequent use of sunbeds by friends or family members and the experience of positive emotions and relaxation by indoor tanning. This review is the first systematic review on risk groups among sunbed users that has been published in a scientific journal. There is still a lack of information among users, particularly among young people regarding the safety of solariums.