Sunbed shops are flouting the law and letting in underage teenagers – with potentially catastrophic results for their health, a Mail on Sunday investigation reveals.
Our undercover team found tanning salons illegally turning a blind eye to under-18s, who are meant to be protected by strict laws because of the risk of skin cancer.
The disease kills six Britons every day and medical experts say youngsters are at particular risk.
Campaigners also say the problem is made worse because under-18s are vulnerable to targeted advertising campaigns on social media, which are on the rise.
Last night, MPs and campaigners were appalled at the MoS findings, and called on councils to rigorously enforce the ban on under-18s.
The MoS visited six tanning shops across the UK with Isabella Hicks, who turned 16 in February
The MoS approached 100 salons, seeking to book appointments for two teens, aged 16 and 18. We then visited six of the shops with a 16-year-old model
They say if current regulations fail to protect the youngsters, Ministers must consider an outright ban on sunbeds, similar to those imposed in Australia and Brazil.
The MoS approached 100 salons, seeking to book appointments for two teens, aged 16 and 18. We then visited six of the shops with a 16-year-old model. The salons were selected from a group that either failed to say they were asking for ID for the 18-year-old, or suggested they would let in the 16-year-old. We found:
- More than half of the 100 salons did not say that the 18-year-old had to show ID;
- Four out of six shops we visited allowed in our 16-year-old;
- Sales assistants pushed discounts and bulk-buy deals that would allow her to use a sunbed every day;
- The tanning trend is fuelled by hundreds of adverts targeting under-18s on the social media app TikTok.
More than 60,000 under-18s are thought to visit the UK’s estimated 4,000 tanning salons, despite guidelines stating customers who look under 25 must be asked for proof-of-age ID.
The law banning salons from selling sunbed sessions to under-18s was introduced in 2011 because of growing concerns about the association between skin cancer and sunbeds. It says salons must take ‘all reasonable steps’ to enforce the age limit or face a fine of up to £20,000.
Our undercover team found tanning salons illegally turning a blind eye to under-18s, who are meant to be protected by strict laws because of the risk of skin cancer
‘I’d rather die hot than live ugly’
Teenagers are bombarded with TikTok videos promoting sunbeds within seconds of joining the platform
Teenagers are bombarded with TikTok videos promoting sunbeds within seconds of joining the platform. An account set up by our reporter, who registered as a 14-year-old, was targeted by a salon after searching for tanning videos.
Within 24 hours, the home page was showing videos posted by bronzed youngsters. Among them was ‘Sunbed Boy’, right, who puts up films of himself inside a salon despite claiming to be just 17. Other young users joke about their ‘addiction’ to sunbeds. One wrote: ‘It’s a problem but I’d rather die hot than live ugly.’
Advertising watchdogs have ruled that salons are not allowed to encourage regular use or claim that sunbeds boost Vitamin D. But we found hundreds of videos from salons promoting their use to boost Vitamin D, remove acne and even cure depression.
A TikTok spokesman said: ‘All content that appears on TikTok must adhere to our guidelines, which do not allow medical misinformation. After reviewing the content in question, we removed any content found to violate those rules.’
But hundreds of shops are advertising their business to teenagers on TikTok, with the youngsters following trends including #tantok, which promotes going to salons.
An account set up by the MoS reporter – who registered their date of birth as that of a 14-year-old – was targeted with a video from a sunbed salon within one minute of searching for #tantok videos.
The MoS visited six tanning shops across the UK with Isabella Hicks, who turned 16 in February. She was allowed access to use sunbeds at four salons without being challenged about her age. At no stage did she use them.
At Tantastic, in Maidstone, Kent, an assistant urged her to sign up to a deal to buy ‘unlimited access’ for £55, which would allow her to use a sunbed every day. ‘You should do 20 minutes a day for a month,’ she said. Guidelines recommend a maximum of three sessions per week. Isabella was taken through for a five-minute session, which cost 80p a minute. Not once was she challenged.
At Bronzin, also in Maidstone, Isabella was shown to a sunbed costing just 90p per minute. No staff member asked for her age. The salon has a TikTok account with nearly 100,000 likes, where it shares jokes about sunbed addiction.
Beauty Temple in Loughborough sold Isabella a five-minute sunbed session for 65p per minute. Again, staff did not ask how old she was, despite the salon being a member of The Sunbed Association
At Streatham Tanning in London, Isabella was asked her age but did not need to provide any proof. She gave a false date of birth on a form, pretending to be two years older.
Our reporting team also phoned 100 sunbed shops. The sales assistant at Beauty Temple in Loughborough, which we later visited, said ‘of course’ when asked if a 16-year-old could use a sunbed. Another salon, in Bermondsey, South London, said it was ‘OK’ for the 16-year-old to use a sunbed because their mother would be with them.
Two of the sunbed salons we visited complied correctly with the legal requirements.
Gillian Nuttall, founder of skin cancer charity Melanoma UK, said: ‘The tanning salons that allowed your 16-year-old to pay for a sunbed are a disgrace and must be prosecuted. The Government must act now to ban tanning salons.’
Gary Lipman, chairman of The Sunbed Association, said there was ‘no excuse’ for knowingly allowing anyone under 18 to use a sunbed, but said what happened at Beauty Temple was ‘an isolated incident involving a member of staff suffering with personal stress’.
Tory MP Paul Bristow, a member of the Commons health committee, said: ‘If the law is being flouted like this, it is obvious many operators are putting making money above protecting young people.’
Martin Goodwin, director of Beauty Temple, said that all of the sunbeds operated by the company have now been closed following our investigation.
He added that the relevant staff member has left the company.
Sarah Smith, manager at Tantastic, said her understanding of the law was that clients did not need proof of ID.
She added: ‘Staff must have thought she looked 18.’
Michelle Senior, manager of Bronzin, said she would ‘check the camera’ to watch our visit but did not send a formal comment.
The MoS was unable to reach the manager of Streatham Tanning, despite presenting the allegations to three staff members.