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Physics Case Study - Do Sunbeds Cause Skin Cancer?

Extracts from this document...


Claire Louise Harrington Capp – Physics Case Study


Title Page – Pg 1

Contents – Page 2

Introduction – Pg 3

The Structure of the Skin – Pg 4

The Electromagnetic Spectrum – Pg 6

How Skin Tans – Pg 7

Skin Cancer – Pg 8

Causes of Skin Cancer – Pg 9

Conclusion – Pg 11

Bibliography – Pg 13


As the pressure on young people to become perfectly preened and tanned steadily increases, more and more turn to sunbeds as a way to find that perfect summer glow. However, the darker side to the story, the soaring numbers of skin cancer, are they paying for their vanity, or is it pure coincidence.

The title I have chosen to study is “Do Sunbeds Cause Cancer?”. Why? – Because in my opinion it is a currently pressing issue, so many young people today are turning to sunbeds, and with the sunbeds themselves becoming stronger and stronger, are we killing ourselves?

I’m looking for evidence to help me come to a personal conclusion. This will include articles either supporting sunbeds as a cause for skin cancer, with evidence from studies showing some undeniable correlation. Alternatively, I am also looking for evidence suggesting other causes, providing an alternative conclusion.

I hope by the end of this case study, I will have a better understanding of the effects of UVA/B radiation on the skin, and that I will be able to make a decision, as to what I think.

The Structure of the Skin

Many people actually know little about their skin, and as a result greatly undermine its importance. It is in fact the largest organ of the human body, making up on average around 16% of our body weight. It has a range of functions which are vital for our survival.

...read more.


Ultraviolet light whether produced by the sun or by a tanning bed consists of two main components: UVA and UVB. The UVA ray is the longer of the two, whilst UVB rays are shorter with more intensity.

How the Skin Tans

Ultra violet rays, essentially cause tanning by affecting melanin the pigment in our skin. Everybody’s skin contains melanin, that’s what gives our skin it’s colour, it is produced by cells called melanocytes, which send the pink pigment up through the epidermis, where it is absorbed by other skin cells. The amount of melanocytes in our bodies is constant, everybody has around 5 million, however, genes dictate how much melanin your melanocytes produce.

The two different types of ultraviolet light cause tanning in different ways. UVA causes a tan by oxidising the melanin. After being exposed to the waves, it undergoes a chemical reaction, changing its colour from pink to brownish, this is what makes our skin appear darker, since as the melanin looks darker, so do the cells containing it. The UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper than UVB rays, all the way down to the subcutaneous fat layer.

On the other hand, UVB rays affect the melanocytes, they cause the melanocytes to produce more melanin, which is then darkened by the accompanying UVA rays. The UVB rays, do not usually go any deeper into the skin than the dermis.



There are an awful lot more UVA rays than UVB rays which reach the earth in sunlight, and this is echoed in tanning beds, where the percentages vary but usually it is around 95% UVA and 5% UVB.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, is as the name suggests a cancer of the skin.

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Nevertheless, I can see why other people might think that sunbeds are the sole cause. I think the correlation between increased use of sunbeds and the soaring levels of skin cancer, is most compelling and worrying. I also think that the government has in a way demonised them, so people have used the information available to them, and formed uninformed conclusions.

I can also see why people could see genes as the sole cause. For starters, I think some people find it hard to believe, anything that gives you a tan, makes you look nice, anything feel good could kill you. Also, as scientists make new discoveries about genes every day, it is unsurprising that they have now found the “skin cancer gene”, people like to think of themselves as at the forefront of scientific discovery.

To conclude, I believe that sunbeds are just one of the causes of skin cancer, meanwhile, I understand why other people may have a different point of view.




The Times Newspaper – (April 8th 2008)

The Daily Mail newspaper (July 13th 2009)

The New Scientist Magazine – (18th May 2008)

The Physical World – Textbook – Nelson Publishings


[1] http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/skin_hair/skin_structure_003740.htm

[2] http://www.mydr.com.au/skin-hair/skin-biology-and-structure


 I didn’t use this site as I believe it to be very biased, and therefore not a reliable source of information.



[4] www.mail.jsd.k12.ca.us

27/07/2009                Candidate No. 7037

...read more.

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