A Safe Sunbed? No Such Thing; Health&Fitness Medical Notes

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Safe Sunbed? No Such Thing; Health&Fitness Medical Notes


Byline: DR MARK PORTER

THE charity Cancer Research UK has teamed up with The Sunbed Association to produce new guidelines banning anyone under 16 from using sunbeds because of the risks of developing cancer later in life. But what about the millions of people over 16 who use them every year in the UK? If sunbeds pose an unacceptable risk to a 15-year-old, how can they be safe for a 20-year-old?

When sunbeds first became popular in the Seventies they produced mainly UVA radiation, thought to be the "safe" part of sunlight that tanned without burning. Today's more powerful lamps still use high levels of UVA but now often also contain UVB, which, as well as tanning, is responsible for sunburn and most forms of skin cancer. The faster the tan, the higher the dose of UVA/UVB radiation, with some sessions delivering a dose equivalent to sunbathing in the midday sun without a sunscreen.

At the same time as sunbed technology has become faster and more powerful, doctors have been learning much more about UV radiation. UVA is no longer regarded as harmless - we now know that it penetrates deep into the skin and is responsible for a number of problems including premature ageing, prickly heat-type rashes and skin cancer.

And the side effects of some of the faster UVB-containing machines are now thought to be almost indistinguishable from the well-documented hazards of overexposure to natural sunlight - some users even develop "sunburn".

Skin specialists have always suspected that sunbeds might cause cancer and the latest research suggests their instincts were right. A recent US study found that sunbed users are up to two-and-a-half times more likely to develop the most common forms of skin cancer and, the younger the user, the higher the risk.

The Cancer Research UK/Sunbed Association guidelines may have settled on a cut-off age of 16, but the US researchers didn't include anyone under the age of 25 in their study, suggesting sunbeds pose a significant risk to much older people (the oldest in the study was 74).

I am all for any move that reduces sunbed usage, but I am uncomfortable with this latest guidance. There hasn't been such an unusual alliance

since the British Dental Association teamed up with the manufacturer of Ribena to endorse a "tooth-friendly" drink, and the cut-off point of 16 is falsely reassuring.

Bottom line? If you want a tan, steer clear of sunbeds and go for the type that comes out of a bottle. Fake tans don't give you wrinkles, aggravate prickly heat, thicken and mottle your complexion or, most importantly, give you skin cancer.

Cure migraine with acupuncture

I HAVE been offering free acupuncture to my patients for the past 15 years, so wasn't at all surprised by new research findings released last week confirming that acupuncture is a useful treatment for headaches, particularly migraine, and should be much more widely available on the NHS.

The study, published on the online version of the British Medical Journal (www.bmj.com), followed 401 regular headache sufferers from across the UK.

Those offered acupuncture (12 treatments over three months) had significantly less headaches, took fewer painkillers, had less time off work and needed fewer consultations with their GP than the group offered more conventional treatment.

This latest study adds to a growing weight of evidence backing the use of acupuncture within the NHS. It is now used by nearly all specialist pain clinics, and one in 10 GPs regularly suggests that patients see an acupuncturist privately, or, if they have had the appropriate training, offer to do the treatment themselves on the NHS.

And it doesn't seem to make much difference whether the acupuncturist is trained in the traditional Chinese techniques or, as in my case, the much more simplistic Western approach. Both seem to work, and work well - at least for some conditions. …

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