Science Questions

Sun, 10th Oct 2004

Part of the show Spinal Injuries, and Brain Repair


Michael asked:

I came back from holiday and thought it would be nice to keep the suntan topped up. Although you're advised to wear goggles or eye protection on sunbeds, what would happen if you didn't and just kept your eyes closed?


Well unfortunately these sunbeds deliver ultraviolet radiation, that's how they tan, and the way they work is by delivering ultraviolet radiation of sufficient intensity that it damages your skin. It's the injury to the skin that causes the tan and that's why your skin ages, and that's why you get skin cancer. This is a very dangerous industry because it's unregulated and some sunbeds deliver radiation that's 5 times the strength of the noonday sun on an Australian beach. Given that Australia is the sunniest place on earth, you get a hefty dose of UV. Now, if you close your eyes the ultraviolet can still penetrate through your eyelids and can get into your eyes, where it can cause cataracts and it can damage your retina. So it's much safer always to use the goggles and the guidelines are that you shouldn't ever go for more than 20 sessions a year, because if you have more than 10 sessions a year, your risk of skin cancer goes up to between 10 and 20% so it's quite a big boost over a 20 year period. So probably better to lay of the sunbed and buy some fake tan if you want to get browned off.


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