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Hollyoaks star bares all under the spotlight to highlight dangers of sunbeds

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 November 2009

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Soap Star Gemma Merna has got up-close-and-personal with her skin to highlight the dangers of sunbeds for Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign.

The actress, who plays Carmel Valentine in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, is known for her looks and year round tan. But, in these exclusive images, she has removed all traces of make-up and gone under the camera to highlight the hidden damage that sunbeds and overexposure to UV light can cause.

The specialist cameras show all the unseen damage that has been caused to the skin by overexposure to UV, given off by sunbeds and the sun. The damage that the cameras can show ranges from age and liver spots to wrinkles, dehydration and areas of damage linked to sunburn.

Gemma, 25, started using sunbeds from the age of 15. She has naturally pale skin, a type very sensitive to sun damage, and would use them once or twice a week with her friends. Gemma remembers burning quite regularly as she tried to get the tan she aspired to. Once she realised the damage she was doing to her skin, she switched to using fake tan to get her year-round glow instead. Now, Gemma wants to raise awareness of how using sunbeds can have far-reaching repercussions – not just on your looks but on your health as well.

Gemma said: “When I was younger, I didn’t realise the damage I was doing to my skin by using sunbeds. I just wanted to look tanned and to fit in with everyone and didn’t give any thought to the risks I was taking or the fact that it would actually make my skin look worse as I got older. When I realised how dangerous sunbeds were, I stopped using them and started using fake tan instead. Looking at these photos, I can see there are already signs of sun damage and I’m only 25! It’s quite shocking. You only get one skin so you really need to look after it. These pictures have convinced me for sure that I’ll never use a sunbed again.”

Jane Lewis, skin specialist, adds: “The pictures of Gemma show that she has signs of sun damage. This is particularly evident in the number of freckles she has on her forehead and across her cheeks, which are not apparent to the naked eye. It’s likely that this damage happened during her childhood and when she used sunbeds. It’s great to hear she has realised the danger she was putting herself in, and now has a really positive approach to protecting her skin.”

This time of year is a key time for sunbed use in the UK, as large numbers of people turn to sunbeds to top up their holiday tans, putting themselves at increased risk of developing skin cancer. Research shows that the intensity of some UV rays from sunbeds can be 10 – 15 times stronger than the midday sun and using a sunbed just once a month can increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by more than half.

Katy Scammell, SunSmart campaign manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “By showing these shocking pictures, we’re hoping that people will see that by using sunbeds they really are storing up problems for the future. Not only do sunbeds increase the risk of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, but they also cause irreversible damage to your skin, making it leathery, wrinkly and old before its time.”

Melanoma is now the most common form of cancer for women in their 20s, with almost one woman aged 20 to 29 being diagnosed each day. And with the total number of people developing the disease have recently crashed through the 10,000 barrier each year, it pays to look after your skin.

For more information on SunSmart please visit