Young people * Healthy living

Hollyoaks star Gemma Merna reveals sun damage to skin

Actress used sunbeds in her teens

Soap star Gemma Merna has teamed up with Cancer Research UK to highlight the dangers of using sunbeds.

The actress, who plays Carmel Valentine in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, and is known for her year round tan, started using sunbeds aged 15. She used sunbeds twice a week to try and tan her naturally pale skin, and remembers burning quite regularly.

But in these exclusive image, taken for the charity's SunSmart campaign, she has removed all traces of make-up and gone under a specialised camera to highlight the hidden damage that sunbeds can cause.

The image shows the usually hidden damage to her skin caused by overexposure to UV light, from sunbeds and overexposure to the sun - age and liver spots to wrinkles, dehydration and areas of damage linked to sunburn.

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.”

Skin specialist Jane Lewis said: “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.”

Katy Scammell, SunSmart campaign manager at Cancer Research UK, added: “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.”

Malignant melanoma skin cancer 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.

Using sunbeds - even just once a month - can increase your risk of developing melanoma by over 50%, says the charity.

If you want a year round glow, take a tip from Gemma - use a fake tan instead.

This article was published on Thu 12 November 2009

Image © Cancer Research UK

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