The New Zealand Ministry of Health website states, “Using a sunbed is never recommended. They are not a safe way to tan or boost your vitamin D.”
The New Zealand Cancer Society also makes no bones about the problem of sunbed use and cancer when they state that they do not support cosmetic tanning using sunbeds or sunlamps under any circumstances. Research has shown that sunbed use:
- increases the risk of developing skin cancer
- causes premature ageing of the skin, including leathery, wrinkled and sagging skin
- is particularly damaging to the cornea of the eyes.
Legislation to ban sunbed use by minors
On 4 January 2017, it became illegal for sunbed operators to allow people under the age of 18 to use a sunbed. The ban reflects the cancer risks associated with sunbed use. Those who do not comply with the law face a fine of up to $2,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a company.
The Ministry of Health’s standard for the solaria industry (AS/NZ 2635:2008) is voluntary. The standard advises operators to:
- ban those under the age of 18 and those with fair/easily burnt skin
- display a warning notice
- provide consent forms that outline the risks
- complete a skin assessment
- provide eye protection
- ban promotion of health benefits
- train staff and maintain hygiene and equipment.
In spite of the legislation and industry standards, 2018 reports by Consumer New Zealand and District Health Board Public Health Units highlight instances of noncompliance.
The World Health Organization research shows that there is up to a 75% increase in the chances of developing melanoma if you have first used a sunbed in your teens or 20s. The Queensland Institute of Medical Research conducted a meta-analysis of 21 previous studies on sunbeds. From these 21 studies, it was found that people who first used a sunbed under the age of 35 increased their risk of melanoma by 98%.
Australia and Brazil have banned commercial sunbeds, and more than 40 national and provincial authorities have placed restrictions on their use.
New Zealand research
Dr Richard McKenzie from NIWA carried out research comparing the radiation type and intensity from sunbeds in Auckland and Dunedin. He found that the spectrum of light from a sunbed is very different from natural sunlight. The sunburning radiation from a sunbed may be similar to midday on a summer’s day but the wave length distribution can be quite different. Dr McKenzie used a UV sensor to record across the UV spectrum and compared this with the spectrum of normal midday sunlight. He found that, to give the same UVB suntanning effect, the sunbed emitted three times as much UVA. This is a UVA intensity three times more than you would ever get from any summer day anywhere in the world. His informed opinion is that we should not expose our bodies to anything so different from nature.
There’s no doubt about it: sunbeds are dangerous to our health.Dr Maria Neir, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health