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Model boss Tracey's warning about using sunbeds for winter tan

Charity and model agency chief team up to highlight danger

Skin deep: Michelle Young with Tracey Hall, Style Academy Model Agency founder, holding photos demonstrating some of the effects of UV exposure on your skin
Skin deep: Michelle Young with Tracey Hall, Style Academy Model Agency founder, holding photos demonstrating some of the effects of UV exposure on your skin

By Christopher Leebody

A leading cancer charity has made a renewed warning about the dangers of sunbed use during the winter months, with help from a prominent fashion businesswoman.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, along with the Public Health Agency (PHA) have set up a new campaign alongside Tracey Hall, director of Style Academy Model Agency, aiming to educate the public to "think twice about tanning".

According to the Department of Health, skin cancer rates in Northern Ireland have trebled in the last 25 years, with the condition now making up the most common form of cancer here.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry show that an average of 4,097 new cases of skin cancer (both melanoma and non-melanoma) were diagnosed here annually between 2013 and 2017. And 377 of these were malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

The charity is hoping this latest information campaign will bust some widely held myths surrounding the use of tanning salons and their effects on skin health.

One particular myth they highlight in the dark winter months is that the use of sunbeds tops up vitamin D. According to the charity: "Studies show that using a sunbed is not an efficient way to generate vitamin D."

They add: "In most countries, including Northern Ireland, only very brief exposure to sunlight is needed to maintain your vitamin D levels."

Further, they present the stark statistic that people who have used a sunbed at least once "have a 20% higher risk of developing melanoma", compared to those who have never used one.

The idea that skin is only damaged when it is visibly sunburnt is also incorrect, according to Cancer Focus. Tanning without sunburn can cause "premature skin ageing and increase the risk of skin cancer through DNA damage".

The research shows that each time the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the risk of developing skin cancer is increased.

Some people believe that it is beneficial to use sunbeds ahead of going on holiday, in order to provide what is known as a "base tan".

According to the charity, such advice is harmful, adding that: "Research has shown that a sunbed tan does not reduce the risk of sunburn and may even increase it by giving a false sense of protection".

One of the most widely regarded myths tackled in the campaign is that a tan is the mark of good health and is seen as aesthetically attractive.

Instead, the facts are that a tan is the sign that skin has been damaged from exposure to UV and can speed up skin ageing, increase the risk of skin cancer and can be harmful to the eyes.

The scale of the use of sunbeds in Northern Ireland is significant, with a Department of Health survey in 2016/17 indicating that 31% of women and 11% of men have used one at some point in the past.

Lending her support to the campaign, as someone who has never used a sunbed, is fashion businesswoman Tracey Hall.

Tracey Hall
Tracey Hall

Tracey, a former model, established the Style Academy Model Agency in Belfast in 1990.

She said: "Sunbeds were a craze when I was a teenager, with tanning studios popping up on every street corner but I am proud to say that I have never used one.

"I encourage all my models to avoid tanning, as it can cause premature ageing and wrinkles, and potentially increase the risk of skin cancer. Yet, thousands of people every year overexpose their skin to UV radiation from either the sun or sunbeds."

Speaking about the new campaign, Marbeth Ferguson, strategy co-ordinator at Cancer Focus NI said: "Many people think having a tan makes them look more attractive but having a tan is actually a sign that our skin has been damaged by over exposure to UV radiation.

"To lower the risk of skin cancer we urge everyone to avoid over exposure to UV from either sunbeds or the sun.

"It's important to get to know your skin. If you notice anything unusual, such as a change to a mole or a blemish, make an appointment with your GP.

"If it's not serious your mind will be put at rest. You certainly won't be wasting anyone's time.

"However, the earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful."

Helping to support the campaign to better inform the public about the dangers, Denise McCallion of the PHA said: "Today there's so much more research available on the damaging effects of UV radiation, but still the old myths persist.

"We're using scientific evidence reviewed by expert bodies, such as the World Health Organisation, to inform the public on the dangers and we hope it will encourage people to think twice about tanning in the future."

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