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Chamber Of Horrors – Solaria Could Be Killers

5 September 2005

Chamber Of Horrors – Solaria Could Be Killers

The results of a survey undertaken by Consumers Institute into the practices of sunbed operators in New Zealand has horrified, but not surprised the Cancer Society.

Of 30 sunbed outlets visited by the Institute, only two met all the requirements specified in the only Standard available in this country – a voluntary one.

The results have prompted the Cancer Society to renew their calls for a compulsory Standard.

Cancer Society and Health Sponsorship Council (HSC) SunSmart spokesperson Wendy Billingsley says the organisations hope the Institute’s survey will re-focus attention on an issue of growing concern.

“As the Consumer magazine article points out, there has been a significant increase in use of sunbeds since 2000 – from five to eight percent with about 40 percent of these sunbed bed users visiting a clinic at least once a fortnight.

“Many of these are young women who may think that getting a sunbed tan is safer than getting skin damage from the sun. They’re certainly not currently being told any different as these results demonstrate.”

It is especially important that young women with fair skin are made aware of the risks because those who are at the highest risk of skin cancer later in life are people who have fair skin which always burns and never tans, and those under the age of 15 who have received large doses of ultraviolet radiation, Ms Billingsley says.

“And these are just the kinds of people who could be helped by a compulsory Standard to warn them of the risks.

“We recommend those under the age of 15 be banned from solariums and those aged 15 to 18 use a solarium only with parental consent.”

Ms Billingsley says if young women can’t be persuaded by the evidence that the UV-A and UV-B rays emitted by sunbeds can potentially cause skin cancers, the Cancer Society and HSC are just as happy if they stop using them because of the ageing effect on their skin.

“Apart from the risk of skin cancer, over-exposure to UV radiation makes the skin dry, wrinkled and less elastic. It may also cause irregular pigmentation. Once this has happened, no fancy creams can reverse the process. The attraction of a tan pales somewhat when you consider that more and more young people in their teens and 20s are developing leathery, lined skin before their time.”

Studies have shown pre-cancerous conditions have also been found in the sunlight-protected but solarium-exposed skin of fair-skinned users after just two to three years of regular solarium use, Ms Billingsley says.

The risk to eyes highlighted by the Consumer article is also endorsed by Ms Billingsley.

She says acute effects of UV radiation on the eye include photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea and the iris), and photoconjunctivitis (an inflammation of the conjunctiva). Long-term effects may include the development of cataracts, pterygium (white or creamy opaque growth attached to the cornea), and squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva.

Ms Billingsley emphasises, no solarium can give a safe tan.

“If people feel they must have a tanned skin to look good, there are plenty of fake tan products that give a realistic look without the risks of skin cancer. We tell sun-bathers to fake it, not bake it. Perhaps for sunbedders it could be: Sham for a safer glam.”


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