A crackdown on sunbeds to protect children could be ordered after a hard-hitting report by experts advising the Government.
Members of a radiation watchdog have called for all sunbed operators to be legally registered, licensed and inspected by local authorities.
They also stressed the need to safeguard children and teenagers, urging a total ban on unsupervised or coin-operated sunbeds, a legal lower age limit of 18 on anyone using a tanning salon, and the sale or hire of tanning equipment to under-18s to be outlawed.
Public Health Minister Gillian Merron yesterday hinted that the Government might be prepared to act to prevent children being put at risk.
She said: “Sunbeds can be dangerous. We must ensure that people who use them do so safely. If necessary we will look at new laws to protect young people.”
The report from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) follows two highly publicised cases of children who were seriously injured by coin-operated sunbeds.
Last month it was reported that 10-year-old Kelly Thompson suffered 70% burns to her body after spending £8 on a 16-minute session at a coin-operated tanning centre in Port Talbot, South Wales.
She ended up staying overnight in a hospital burns unit. Her mother, Sharon Hannaford, called for coin-operated sunbeds to be shut down.
Another Welsh schoolgirl, Kirsty McRae (14), suffered similar injuries in February after paying £4 for 19 minutes of tanning at a coin-operated centre. She was also treated for 70% burns and placed on a drip and given oxygen in hospital.
Her mother Jill, from Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan, said unstaffed sunbed salons posed “an enormous risk”.
As well as burning, radiation from sunbeds is known to damage DNA, leading to premature ageing and an increased chance of developing skin cancer.
Without accurate records the harm caused by sunbeds is difficult to gauge. But a rough estimate suggests that each year the machines cause 370 cases of malignant skin cancer and 100 deaths in the UK.
Comare said the true number of cancer casualties was likely to be higher because these figures were based on 2004 data.
Around a quarter of adults in the UK are believed to have used a sunbed, and 6% of young people aged 11 to 17.
A UK-wide survey carried out in the mid-1980s found that 19% of commercial sunbed users were young people under the age of 20. A small proportion, 0.6%, were 15 or younger.
Current professional guidelines state that under-16s should not use a sunbed. But in Scotland, a survey of 1,405 primary school children carried out in 2004 found that almost 7% of children aged eight to 11 had used a sunbed in the previous five or six months.
As many as 1.3% may be using one as regularly as once a fortnight, the survey suggested.
Sunbeds produce two kinds of ultra violet (UV) radiation, UVA and UVB. The first penetrates deeply and is most associated with cancer. The second affects the surface of the skin and provides a quick tan but also burns.