Sunlight and Sunbeds – natural and artificial UV radiation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Without a doubt, with its infrared light, visible light and UV light components sunlight is of central importance to all of us. However, over the last couple of years, an unjust demonization of the sun and to a similar extent of tanning beds has taken place, writes Torben König, Scientific Advisor of the European Sunlight Association (ESA).

In fact, without the sun, the evolution of all life on Earth as we know it, would not have been possible. Despite this, the focus of health messages often mostly emphasizes the potential negative effects on human health, mainly skin cancer, without differentiating among the different types. What indeed makes it difficult to create a general public health message and is therefore confusing for the people is that depending on the personal skin type, age, latitude, the time of the year and time of the day among others, there is no “one size fits all” recommendation on how much time people can spend outside before getting sunburned.

Sunburns are the main risk factor

It is very important to understand that sunburns are the main risk factor for the development of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and need to be avoided at all costs. Effective protective measures such as wearing clothes should be combined with seeking the shade, when the intensity gets too high. This is especially the case during holidays in tropical climates to which our skin is not adapted. Moderation is the key!

In terms of the actual benefits of moderate sun exposure, often only the omnipresent vitamin D, which is formed in the skin upon UV-B exposure, is mentioned with frequent recommendations that also supplements can maintain sufficient serum levels and therefore make the sun obsolete. However, many studies have shown that supplements don’t have the same effect as naturally obtained vitamin D.

Other benefits for the human health, which are well-documented through a number of studies, include especially the release of nitric oxide in the skin upon UV-A exposure which leads to lower blood pressure levels by widening blood vessels. Also, the formation of certain hormones, such as beta-endorphins important for our well-being, as well as a healthier immune system are mostly unknown to the broader public.

Light from a tanning bed is the same as from the natural sun

Depending on the model, the output of a modern tanning bed is practically the same to the one of the sun (the 0.3 W/m2 irradiation limit in Europe equals the Mediterranean sun on a clear day at noon). Especially the proportion of UVA to UVB radiation is very similar, as an average sunbed is emitting 95% UVA and 5% UVB. And while it is easy to burn your skin at the Mediterranean beach, the tanning studios offer a controlled environment with stable conditions.

The tanning industry is very well regulated

Although the industry is already very well regulated thanks to the relevant EU legislation including the Low Voltage Directive, the General Product Safety Directive as well as various national indoor tanning laws, ESA has taken a very proactive role in ensuring safe and responsible indoor tanning. We continuously work towards wide scale implementation of the relevant European standards to ensure consumer safety is continuously improved and that consumers receive quality services and informed advice on sunbed use. In that regard, ESA worked and keeps on cooperating with the European Commission to support a fast adoption and implementation of the 0.3 W/m2 irradiation limit as part of the well-recognized, ‘state-of-the-art’ EN 60335-2-27 technical standard. In addition, we submitted a proposal for further improvements to this technical standard to ensure the highest possible level of consumer safety.

ESA was established to promote safe, controlled and informed use of sunbeds compliant with the relevant regulative framework. Today ESA is recognised by all stakeholders as the representative European umbrella association for and the voice of the European indoor tanning industry representing national indoor tanning associations and leading manufacturers of indoor tanning equipment.

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