Recently I was saddened to see that Melanotan – a synthetic hormone designed to stimulate melanin release in the skin – is making the rounds on social media in the form of tanning nasal sprays, with many advocating its benefits for helping users to tan quickly and more deeply. Tanning nasal sprays aren’t strictly self-tanners. Instead, they’re inhaled as nasal sprays to boost the effects of sun exposure or a sunbed.

My worry has always been that, with products like these, stimulating the melanocytes could increase your risk of skin cancer developing – but we don’t yet have enough data on this. We also know that Melanotan comes with some pretty nasty side effects, including sexual dysfunction, nausea, and flushing. One study even linked it to renal infarction, a severe kidney complication.⁠

I shared my thoughts on nasal tanning sprays and sunbeds in a recent TikTok video, and I was shocked at the response that I received, with many people still in favour of using sunbeds despite the potentially lethal consequences.

So, why are so many people in the UK still using sunbeds? Below, I address what some may call a ‘sun awareness crisis’ as well as some of the biggest misconceptions and the most shocking comments that I have received.

A lack of public awareness 

A big part of the issue is that people are in denial about the risks due to a lack of awareness. Public health investment in sunbed warnings has dramatically decreased in the past ten years or so, perhaps because it’s assumed we all know the dangers. But this is clearly not the case.

I also think that they are still popular because people believe the risk is small and likely won’t happen to them. Studies show that we associate them with attractiveness and health. But, in the long run, UV exposure will result in deep lines and skin sagging and, in the worst cases, skin cancer.

Around 13,300 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the deadliest type of skin cancer – in the UK each year. It is now the nation’s fifth most common cancer overall and the second most common in young adults aged 15 to 34. And for people who start using sunbeds before the age of 35, the relative risk of malignant melanoma almost doubles.

It is so important that people start to understand the dangers of tanning. Any tan, whether from a sunbed or the sun itself, is a sign of skin damage and will increase your risk of developing skin cancer in the future.

‘Sunbeds aren’t dangerous if used correctly’

In short, there is no correct way to use a sunbed unless they’re being used to help manage a medical condition (which still comes with risks). Sunbeds contain a very intense form of UVA light, and UVA light is responsible for skin cancer. So even if you were to use a sunbed whilst wearing an SPF 50 with broad-spectrum coverage, it would still be far more harmful than lying in the sun (which I am not advocating at the height of the day). The problem with sunbeds is that they’re highly intense and therefore extremely dangerous.

‘If sunbeds need to be outlawed, then so do cigarettes’

The difference in the messaging around the health implications of smoking has been strong for a long time now. In the 1970s, 45% of the UK population smoked, compared to just 14% today. Smoking rates have dramatically fallen over the last few decades, and the significant price increase now makes it an unattractive habit for many. But when it comes to sunbeds, most people still don’t understand just how dangerous they are. We don’t see it as a harmful habit, as we do cigarettes. Sunbeds are extremely dangerous, and it’s this lack of understanding and education that worries me. We don’t see photos of skin cancers on the shop windows of tanning shops like we do cancerous lungs on the sides of cigarette packs. Sunbeds are still very affordable for most, unlike cigarettes where pricing has risen dramatically.

‘Sunbeds give you Vitamin D, which is good for you’

If your Vitamin D levels are a concern, you should be taking a good quality Vitamin D supplement – this is not a reason to use sunbeds. Instead, take at least 3000 units every day throughout the year if you live in the UK.

‘Lots of things cause cancer. Why is this any different?’

Even breathing oxygen eventually kills us but wouldn’t it be nice not to do things that speed that up? Sunbeds, in many people, increase the rates at which we get certain cancers that can limit the length of our life. It’s very easy to ignore the risks now, but your future self will indeed thank you for avoiding them.

‘Sun creams actually have more chemicals in that are carcinogenic than using a sunbed safely’

There is absolutely no evidence that suggests sun cream causes cancer. There are many different formulations of sun cream, and you can exercise personal choice. If you’re worried about them and don’t want to believe the scientific papers, use a mineral sunscreen instead. But the use of sunbeds is significantly more dangerous than any sun cream.

‘If they’re that dangerous, why does the NHS use them for treatment?’

The NHS uses UV Light Phototherapy to treat certain medical conditions, but they do it in a controlled way – it’s like being prescribed medication. If you are using sunbeds under the guidance of a medical professional who thinks that they are helpful for a health condition that you have and the benefits of them outweigh the risks for you, this is fine. But we shouldn’t be using them in the unregulated way that we do here in the UK.