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SOLARIUMS, SUNLAMPS AND SKIN CANCER

ANTI-CANCER COUNCIL OF VICTORIA

Two out of three people in Australia will develop skin cancer during their lives. This is the highest skin cancer rate in the world, and is due largely to our exposure to sunlight (solar UV radiation). People who use solariums simply add to this already high level of UV exposure, and probably increase the risk of skin cancer.

Solariums and sunlamps offer people an artificial tanning process which is claimed to be effective and harmless. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the ultraviolet radiation used in solariums and sunlamps may damage the skin, and may increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

In view of this possibility, the Anti-Cancer Council strongly recommends against the use of solariums and sunlamps for cosmetic tanning.

Ultraviolet radiation, those rays which cause skin damage, is made up of three components: UVA, UVB and UVC. The harmful effects of UVB and UVC have been known for some time. No UVC from the sun reaches the earth's surface but it can be created artificially by lamps. UVA was, until recently, thought to be relatively harmless, but evidence is emerging that UVA may also cause skin damage, and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Are solariums harmful to health?

Most solariums claim to use only UVA.

There are two issues here.

Firstly, the output from solarium lamps changes over time. If UVB and UVC (both of which are dangerous in much smaller quantities than UVA) are to be excluded, solariums need to be tested regularly, especially if lamps or perspex are changed.

Secondly, researchers no longer regard exposure to UVA as safe.

Solarium advertising claims that UVA does not cause skin ageing, nor does it cause skin cancer in the long term.

UVA radiation penetrates the top layer of your skin and can cause damage to the lower layer. This causes skin to age prematurely, with effects that include roughening, blotchiness, wrinkling and general looseness.

When UVA exposure is sufficiently great, it may cause sunburn as well as a tan.

There is good evidence now to show that UVA is a contributing cause (with UVB) of common skin cancer. In addition, two recent studies suggest that using a sunbed or sunlamp increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Solarium advertising claims that a UVA tan actually protects you from sunburn, premature ageing of the skin, and skin cancer which result from exposure to natural sunshine.

Whether a tan is brought on be UVA alone (solariums) or by UVA and UVB together (as in natural sunlight), the UV dose accumulated while achieving a tan adds to the lifetime total dose, and to the risk of skin cancer. Although people who have acquired a suntan may not sunburn as easily as those without, a tan does not give you sufficient protection against the harmful effects of everyday levels of sunlight in Australia. The case of farmers or outdoor workers illustrates this point; these people tend to have a constant suntan, but their skin still ages prematurely, and they develop many more skin cancers than indoor workers.

People with skin that burns easily and does not tan are the most vulnerable, but those at risk also include the more olive-skinned people of Southern Europe. Only those with very dark skins, such as Aboriginal people, seem to be most immune to skin cancer.

Moreover, UVA only produces a 'satisfactory' tan in those who develop a tan relatively easily in natural sunshine. Those who burn easily and tan poorly in the sun are likely to be disappointed with the results from a solarium.

For more information on skin cancer or how to prevent it, contact the

ANTI-CANCER COUNCIL OF VICTORIA
1 RATHDOWNE STREET CARLTON SOUTH VICTORIA 3053
Telephone: (03) 9635 5000, Fax: (03) 9635 5270

Solariums pose health hazards

  • If the eyes are inadvertently exposed to UVA, the cornea and the conjunctiva may be briefly inflamed, and sight may sometimes be permanently damaged.
  • Up to half the people who use solariums develop minor skin irritations such as redness, itchiness, and dryness. Solariums can also irritate some existing rashes. If you use a solarium excessively, your skin may become more fragile, and may blister.
  • Some prescription drugs, including antibiotics and diuretics, and some cosmetics, can increase a person's sensitivity to UVA. Use of a sunlamp or solarium under these conditions may result in severs sunburn; it can cause and itchy and painful rash which is sometimes followed by the development of blotchy darker patches of pigmentation on the skin; and it may also damage the eyes.
  • The UV radiation from sunbeds has been shown to cause changes in the body's immune system, although we do not know yet hoe important these changes are.

PUVA treatment
PUVA stands for psoralens (P) and UVA (the long wavelength of ultraviolet). It is a medical treatment used for a variety of conditions, most commonly psoriasis. Psoralens are drugs which are given by the mouth, or applied to the skin prior to shining UVA on to the skin. The psoralens sensitise the skin to UVA.

When used under medical supervision, the treatment is very effective. There is a small risk of skin cancer associated with the treatment, but is often outweighed by the unpleasant nature of the underlying skin condition which is being treated. However, medical supervision is required to ensure that the correct treatment is given and that if any problems occur, they are detected and treated early.

Regulations for the use of solariums and sunlamps
In 1993 the Standards Association of Australia (SAA) Standard AS2635-1983 set guidelines on the installation, maintenance and operation of commercial solariums. Included in these is a recommendation that the form shown in this brochure be read, understood and signed by every person using a solarium.

Sunlamps that are sold for use in the home are not controlled by any such guidelines. These sunlamps often emit high levels of UVB and may even emit the more damaging UVC. These products should only be used on the advice of a doctor, and then only under strict medical supervision.

ADVICE TO CLIENTS

Please read carefully the following information:

  1. Exposure to ultraviolet light from either sun or a solarium causes varying degrees of damage to the skin and eyes.
  2. Exposure to ultraviolet light accelerates ageing of the skin and contributes to the development of skin cancer.
  3. Some people are unable to tan effectively by exposure to sunlight or solarium light because of skin complexion, and you should be particularly aware of the possible danger of exposure to ultraviolet light if :
    1. you normally have difficulty tanning; or
    2. you have a very fair complexion.
  4. There is additional risk and solarium exposure is not recommended if:
    1. you have ever been treated for sun spots or skin cancer; or
    2. you have ever suffered from an abnormal reaction, or allergy, to light.
  5. There may be further risk and caution with solarium exposure is recommended if you are taking certain medications by mouth or applying medications or cosmetics to the skin.
  6. You should not undergo ultraviolet exposure in this establishment if you have undergone solarium exposure within the past 48 hours.
  7. You should not undergo further solarium exposure within 48 hours of undergoing ultraviolet exposure in this establishment.
  8. You should avoid, as far as practical, intentional exposure to sunlight within 48 hours both before and after any solarium exposure.
  9. You must wear protective goggles while undergoing solarium exposure. Failure to do so may cause both short-term and long-term eye damage.

I,……………………………………………. Have carefully read and fully understand the above information and choose to undergo exposure in this establishment. (The act of signing this form does not limit, reduce or exclude any of the legal rights or remedies the Client would otherwise have).

Signed………………………………………….

Date……………………………………………

Name of establishment…………………………

THIS INFORMATION WAS PRODUCED FOR THE ANTI-CANCER COUNCIL'S SUNSMART PROGRAM, WITH FUNDING SUPPORT FROM THE VICTORIAN HEALTH PROMOTION FOUNDATION.

North East Valley Division General Practice, Victoria, Australia, Disclaimer 
Level 1, Pathology Building, Repatriation Campus, A&RMC, Heidelberg West VIC 3081. .. map
Phone: 03 9496 4333, Fax: 03 9496 4349,  Email: nevdgp@nevdgp.org.au
Please note: NEVDGP does not provide an on-line consultation