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Sunbed Operators Continue To Put High-risk Customers In Danger

A mystery shop by Consumer NZ found some sunbed operators are putting fair-skinned customers at risk by letting them use sunbeds.

The watchdog has serious concerns after seven operators it visited failed to comply with Ministry of Health advice – and let a person with fair skin access a sunbed.

“People who use a sunbed have a 20% greater risk of melanoma than people who have never used a sunbed,” said Belinda Castles, Consumer research and test writer.

“The risk is even greater for fair-skinned people; they should never use a sunbed because of the significant risk posed,” said Castles.

The voluntary sunbed standard recommends people with type 1 skin (fair skin which burns easily or never tans) should never use a sunbed.

The Ministry of Health advises all sunbed operators should comply with the sunbed standard. This means providing consent forms, eye protection, warning notices and skin assessments.

Sunbed operators are advised to use a skin assessment questionnaire to determine a person’s skin type.

“The questionnaire asks about genetic factors, such as eye, hair and skin colour, reaction to sun exposure, and tanning habits,” Castles said.

“Points are allocated for each question and the total score determines a person’s skin type. A score of 0 to 7 is skin type 1.”

Consumer’s mystery shoppers, assessed by health professionals as being skin type 1, visited sunbed operators across Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

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Three of the operators falling foul of the sunbed standard are repeat offenders, having been caught out in Consumer’s 2020 mystery shop too.

“In Auckland, six out of eight operators refused our mystery shopper’s sunbed request. However, the other two operators didn’t turn her away, even after her skin assessment.”

Wellington operators fared even worse, with 50% of operators visited letting the mystery shopper access a tanning session.

“One Wellington operator didn't provide a consent form or skin assessment. Two other operators in the capital provided dodgy advice about the length of time our shopper could spend on a sunbed. Although they suggested short sessions, they should have turned the customer away.

“Two operators in Christchurch suggested the shopper take it slowly but they shouldn't have been allowed one at all.”

“The standard is clear: People with type 1 skin should never use a sunbed,” Castles said.

“It also recommends people who had multiple sunburns in childhood, have multiple moles or who have been treated for skin cancer shouldn't use one.

“Yet again, our mystery shop has uncovered many sunbed operators are not protecting New Zealanders. We want to see sunbeds banned.”

Consumer is calling for a ban on sunbeds. New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma deaths in the world. Sunbeds have been banned in Australia, which has similarly high rates of skin cancer.

The call for a ban on sunbeds is supported by the New Zealand Dermatological Society Inc, Cancer Society of New Zealand, Melanoma Foundation, MelNet and the University of Otago’s Social and Behavioural Research Unit.

Consumer also sent underage shoppers to 20 sunbed operators. The Health Act restricts sunbed use to people aged 18 and over. None of the operators allowed the underage shoppers to use a sunbed.

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