- What are solaria?
- Why are solaria used?
- Who uses solaria?
- Laws and regulations controlling the sale of solarium products in Australia
- Health risks associated with using a solarium
- Groups particularly at risk from solarium associated health risks
- Recommendations for minimising the effects of solaria
Solaria are light chambers used for indoor cosmetic tanning. They are also known as sun beds, sun lamps and tanning lamps. The chambers are enclosed areas, with high intensity lights, in which an individual can stand or lie for a period of time to induce a tanning effect similar to that produced by exposure to sunlight.
Like the rays of the sun, light rays emitted from the lights in solaria contain ultraviolet (UV) rays, and thus carry a risk of UV radiation associated cancers and eye diseases. The UV rays from lights in solaria however are more concentrated than the rays of the sun, meaning that the UV radiation emitted by solaria lamps is more intense than radiation emitted by the sun. For example, tests conducted by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency estimated that the light emitted by a number of commercial solaria in Australia was three times more intense than the midday summer sun in Brisbane, Queensland.
In addition to a greater overall intensity, the proportion of light rays emitted by solaria which are UV-B rays (as opposed to UV-A and UV-C rays) is greater than the proportion of UV-B rays emitted by the sun. UV-B rays are the type of UV rays which present the greatest risk to health and which are responsible for the majority of skin cancers.
For more information, see Preventing Cancer: Ultraviolet Radiation.
Solaria have been widely promoted in Australia in recent years as a safe way to tan. However there is no scientific evidence to support this view. The promotion of solaria is linked to the myth that tanned skinned is healthier and more attractive. This belief remains widely held in Australia, and thus solaria owners encourage this belief when promoting their products in order to encourage customers to pay for the supposed cosmetic benefits of indoor tanning. Owners of solaria do not however provide their potential customers with adequate information about the health risks of solarium based tanning when promoting their products.
The sale of solarium products has increased exponentially in Australia since the early 1990s. Most Australian cities have seen a four-fold increase in the number of solarium-related businesses operating, while in Melbourne the increase has been even higher and there are now six times more solarium businesses operating than in 1992.
While many individuals expose themselves to solaria lights in the belief that they provide a safer method of tanning than sun bathing, there is currently no evidence to support the view that solarium tanning is safe. As mentioned above, many solaria lights have been found to emit more intense levels of UV-B radiation than the sun, and exposure to UV-B radiation in particular is the key cause of sun exposure related health risks.
An estimated 400,000 Australians used a solarium in 2006, representing 0.9–3% of the population. A significant proportion of this group are regular solarium users. For example, one study conducted amongst high school students found that 35% of solarium tanners used a solarium at least once a fortnight. Women and adolescents are the population groups most likely to use solaria.That young people are amongst the most likely to use solaria is of particular concern, as research indicates that childhood UV exposure carries a greater risk of developing cancer later in life than does adult UV exposure.
The sale of solarium products in Australia is largely unregulated. This means that unlike the sale of cigarettes and other harmful products which are restricted for sale to certain groups (typically those over 18 years of age) there are no restrictions on who can purchase solarium products. However the governments of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia have recently implemented legislation to enforce the training of solarium operators and restrict access to solaria products by particularly high risk groups. In other states, the Australia Government Radiation Health Committee encourages operators of solaria to comply with the Australia/New Zealand standard AS/NZS2365:2000-Solaria for cosmetic purposes, although compliance remains voluntary.
The Australia and New Zealand standard encourages operators to implement a range of measures to reduce the health risks associated with solarium tanning. These include:
- Banning the sale of solarium products to individuals under 15 years of age and gaining parental consent for use by 15–18 year olds;
- Limiting exposure times and intensity of exposure;
- Training on skin type assessment for operators; and
- Use of client consent forms.
Research indicates that compliance with this voluntary code is low. For example, one study reported that 90% of solariums sold their products to fair-skinned clients and more than half the customers under 16 years of age were able to buy solarium products without parental consent. Health practitioners have therefore argued for greater regulation of this rapidly growing industry (i.e. enforcing the voluntary code), to create awareness of and minimise the health risks associated with indoor tanning.
There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates exposure to artificial UV radiation from solaria lamps increases the risk of skin cancer. An Australian study estimated that in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, some 247 cases of melanoma are attributable to UV exposure from solaria. In addition, 43 Australian deaths each year are attributable to solaria induced melanomas.
There is also evidence that solaria use increases the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. An Australian study estimated that 2,572 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer arise each year as a result of solarium use. While non-melanoma mortality rates are very low, the cost of diagnosing and treating non-melanoma skin cancers represents the largest proportion of government’s budget dedicated to the treatment of any single type of cancer. Thus, preventing these cancers can dramatically reduce the costs associated with diagnosis and treatment.
While studies have not examined the association between the use of solaria and eye diseases and disorders, there are a number of eye health risks associated with over exposure to solar UV radiation, which are likely also to occur as a result of exposure to artificial UV radiation from a solarium. These include eye cancers, cataracts and ptergyum.
The health risks associated with UV radiation exposure are even greater for some groups of people, who are discussed further below.
Individuals who are melano-compromised (i.e. have fair skin that burns or freckles easily) are at greater risk from exposure to UV radiation. This is because they have lower levels of melanin, the component of skin which protects against UV radiation induced damage, and thus less natural resistance to damage caused by UV radiation than people with higher levels of melanin (i.e. darker skin). A high proportion of Australians have fair skin and health practitioners have called for a ban on the sale of solarium products to fair skinned individuals.
Childhood exposure to ultraviolet radiation is an important determinant of melanoma risk, and children are thought to be more at risk because they have lower levels of melanin than adults. In Australia, voluntary codes recommend that solarium products not be sold to minors without parental consent, and health practitioners have called for this code to be enforced.
As exposure to artificial UV radiation in a solarium adds to the cumulative exposure to UV radiation, individuals who already spend considerable periods of time in the sun are at even greater risk from their exposure to artificial UV radiation from solaria.
Health professionals recommend that individuals who wish to protect themselves from cancers associated with UV radiation exposure do not use solaria. Parents should be aware of the increased dangers associated with UV radiation exposure in childhood, and counsel their children regarding the dangerous effects of solariums.
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