Exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in a solarium (sun bed or tanning bed) causes melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC) ocular melanoma, eye damage and premature aging of the skin.
There is no such thing as a ‘safe tan’ and there are no substantiated health benefits, including boosting vitamin D levels, attributable to exposure to artificial UV radiation in a solarium.
Commercial solariums are banned in all Australian states and territories except the Northern Territory, where there are no commercial tanning businesses.
Private ownership and personal use of solariums remain legal (and unregulated) in all states and territories.
Cancer Council Australia, the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the Australasian College of Dermatologists do not recommend the use of artificial UV radiation tanning devices for cosmetic purposes in any circumstances.
Cancer Council Australia is not calling for an outright ban of the private ownership of solariums in domestic settings. To date, the private ownership/use of solariums in Australian private homes remains low. State and territory governments have implemented strong compliance and enforcement measures to control commercial solarium operations and have taken action against individuals whom have been commercialising sunbed use in their private home.
Cancer Council will continue to monitor the situation and review this position as required.
In 2013-14, 12% of Australian adults reported they had ever used a solarium and 1% reported having used a solarium in the previous 12 months. However, prior to a national ban of commercial solariums in January 2015 it was estimated that each year in Australia, 281 melanoma cases, 43 melanoma- related deaths and 2,572 new cases or squamous cell carcinoma were attributable to solarium use, at a cost to the public health system of around $3 million.
In 2009, the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) re-classified sunbeds into the highest risk category (Group 1, carcinogenic to humans).
Ban of commercial solariums
Due to the associated health risks, commercial solariums were banned from 1 January 2015 in all Australian states and territories except Western Australia, where a ban was introduced from 1 January 2016, and the Northern Territory, where there are no commercial solarium.
Use of solariums in private homes
The commercial ban of solariums makes it illegal for any person to provide the use of a tanning bed (commercial or home unit) for a fee. The commercial ban, however, does not affect personal ownership or use of solariums. UV tanning products (beds, stand up units and canopies) designed for home use are available for purchase in Australia and, since the commercial ban on solariums came into affect, some commercial units are also now in use in private homes. A solarium designed for home use may differ from a commercial unit in size, intensity of UV output and power required to work the unit.
Cancer Council Australia advises against using any type of solarium. Exposure to artificial UV radiation in a solarium increases the risk of skin damage, skin cancer and eye damage. Any person using a privately owned solarium should take care to minimise the risks by following the manufactures instructions on exposure times, UV lamp output, hygiene, maintenance and use of protective eye goggles.
All solariums use fluorescent lamps or tubes containing phosphor blends to emit artificial UV radiation. Units designed for home use may have between 20 to 30 lamps of 100 watts compared to a commercial machine that may have 24 to 60 lamps of 100 to 200 watts.
There is a diverse range of lamps available on the market with substantial differences in UVA and UVB output. Previous research conducted by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) found there is a large variability in the UV dose delivered in sunbeds of similar power, ranging from UV Index ranges of 31.3 to 48.6. A UV Index of 3 is high enough to cause permanent damage to the skin and eyes.
Some modern solariums emit a UVA to UVB ratio more closely simulating natural sun exposure in order to shorten tanning times. A more natural UVA to UVB ratio does not necessarily mean these solariums are safer than units with a heavier UVA output.
Cancer Council's position on the private use of solariums
There is currently no “national call” by state and territory Cancer Councils for a ban on the private ownership and personal use of solariums across Australia. The private ownership/use of solariums in Australian private homes remains low. Reports to Cancer Council of illegal commercial operations are escalated to the relevant state or territory government department responsible for investigating and enforcing the ban on commercial solaria. This area should continue to be monitored and if the health impact of solariums in private homes across Australia become more apparent (and based on sound evidence) then this Cancer Council’s position will be reviewed.
However, individual state and territory Cancer Councils may seek a total ban on solariums within their own jurisdiction according to potential negative health outcomes.
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