Issue 12 / 4 April 2011

IT’S hard to believe anybody would still use a solarium. Tanning salons seem so, well, 1980s, along with big hair and big shoulder pads.

And we know how dangerous they are: several studies have established a link between solarium use and increased risk of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Australian research shows that people who use a solarium more than 10 times over the course of their life have twice the melanoma risk of those who never use one. The younger people are at first use, the greater the risk.

But, despite extensive media coverage of some tragic cases of melanoma linked to solarium use, the message clearly hasn’t got through to everyone. Type “solariums” into a search engine and you’ll find plenty of businesses still offering this dubious service.

So what can be done?

Regulation of the industry has tightened since 2008, with states and territories introducing laws to, among other things, ban solarium use in minors and those with type 1 skin.

Australian standards also require solarium operators to warn customers that radiation from tanning units contributes to cancer.

Which is great — except compliance with the standards is voluntary and states don’t always enforce the rules about the warnings that have to be given.

The information on cancer risk provided on solarium websites varies hugely, from fairly comprehensive warnings to … nothing at all.

Some even claim health benefits from tanning, in defiance of regulations forbidding them to do so.

Several advocacy bodies have called for a complete ban on the industry, but attempts to prohibit adults from engaging in activities that cause harm only to themselves don’t really have a history of success.

What we can do is try to make sure people at least understand the risks they are taking, and the best way of doing that might be to take a leaf out of the antismoking campaigns.

Written warnings are all very well, but I say we mandate display of full-colour pictures of melanoma in all tanning salons: over the reception desk and in each cubicle.

If the graphic pictures on cigarettes have to be half the size of the packet, it would be only fair to make these ones half the size of a tanning bed.

Given that these places are in the business of selling beauty, I reckon that could be a real killer.

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer.

Posted 4 April 2011

2 thoughts on “Jane McCredie: A solarium smoking gun

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am currently living in France and am horrified at how popular solariums are here. They are amost as ubiquitous as bakeries and patisseries! And cheap too – a session costs as little as 4 euros. My French friends do not understand my aversion to tanning and regularly toast themselves until they are dark brown. This, together with the high prevalence of smoking, is surely a ticking time bomb….It will interesting (and sad) to follow the statistics over the next few decades. Australia has the right idea of making both these high risk activities more and more difficult.

  2. Ruth Armstrong says:

    I’m not sure that the idea of banning solarium use altogether should be dismissed so easily. Solariums are not exactly easy to come by for home or illicit use. Banning them might be quite an effective solution. Also, if not for an “accident” of politics, NSW would be about to get tighter restrictions. A ban on use by people aged less than 25 years, and those with fair skin was to be introduced later this year. It was unfortunately discarded by someone clearing their desk on the eve of the election
    let’s hope the incoming State Government will implement, or even extend, these restrictions.

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