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What is tanning?

Exposing the skin to sunlight or using a tanning bed to darken the skin colour.

It's also known as Sunbathing or Sunbeds.

What does tanning do?

  • Face

    Darkens/tans skin

Who can have tanning?

  • Tanning beds are only available for use by adults, but anyone may sunbathe in natural sunlight

How long does tanning last?

The length for which tanning will last varies depending on level of sun exposure and type of skin.

What should I be aware of?


There is no safe or healthy way to get a tan from sunlight, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence 1.

The British Photodermatology Group and British Association of Dermatologists have released a joint statement stating that the use of sunbeds should be strongly discouraged. The NHS provide an Are Sunbeds Safe? page which has further information on sunbeds. It is illegal to allow people who are under the age of 18 to use tanning beds, under section 2 of the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010.

Some people incorrectly think that having a tan is useful protection against sun damage to skin and skin cancer. In fact, the risks of exposure outweigh any protective effect 1.

Common risks of overexposure to sunlight are skin cancer, cataracts, and premature wrinkling and ageing.

This does not mean that people should avoid all sunlight - which is important for vitamin D levels and emotional well-being. However, people should pay careful attention to the advice given on how to reduce the risks. More guidance and information is available on the NHS website.

Are there other options?

An easy and cheap alternative to tanning is a fake spray tan product (usually containing dihydroxyacetone), which usually costs £10-20 and can be bought from high street shops or online retailers. Fake spray tans do not provide protection from the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, so you should continue to follow the guidelines for sunlight exposure. Fake tan pills (actually pills of highly concentrated food colouring) are banned in the UK as they are unsafe to use.


  1. 1.
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2016) “Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits (NG34).” Link

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