Nine out of 10 sunbeds in England fail to meet British and European safety standards, according to new research published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
The levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by 400 sunbeds were on average two times higher than recommended limits, the study found.
Researchers warn the number of skin cancers may increase if stricter controls are not put in place.
The researchers from the University of Dundee also looked at the risk of developing skin cancer from sunbeds compared with the risk associated with tanning in the Mediterranean sun.
They found the cancer risk from sunbeds was more than twice that of spending the same length of time in the midday sunshine.
Yinka Ebo, at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research has already shown that using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of the skin cancer malignant melanoma by 87%.
“Sunbeds are not going to do you any good – the best-case scenario is they will age and damage your skin. The worst-case scenario is a cancer diagnosis and potentially death.”
Regulation on sunbeds came into force in 2009, but the researchers suggest stricter control measures are required to prevent an increase in the number of skin cancers.
Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “England is sadly trailing behind the rest of the UK in this matter.
“We need proper regulation, covering issues like safety of equipment and health warnings for clients.”
But Gary Lipman, chairman of the Sunbed Association, which represents companies that manufacture and operate tanning stations, said the study findings were out of date.
“The Sunbed Association has been working with its members, non-members and… local authorities since 2009 to inform them about the change in UV emission levels, and advise how to become compliant.
“Sun bed users should check with their salon that the sunbed is 0.3 compliant – that means its UV emission levels are guaranteed to be no higher than the midday Mediterranean sun.”