New research shows solarium users are being exposed to UV levels up to six times the strength of the midday sun and solarium operators are unaware of the excessive levels of UV radiation their customers are being exposed to.

The research was conducted by Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), which measured UV emissions from solariums in Victoria and NSW.

Cancer Council Australia's Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ian Olver, said the results added weight to existing evidence that solariums should be more tightly regulated.

"Australians are putting their lives at risk when using a solarium," Professor Olver said. "Each year 1850 Australians die of skin cancer and solariums make a mockery of our efforts to reduce skin cancer.

"Currently there are inconsistencies in how solariums are regulated in each state and territory. We need to ensure all governments act to protect people from the known harms and to take all measures to tighten and introduce new regulations in line with any new evidence, and to enforce the regulations already in place. At this stage I am not confident that this is happening."

Professor Olver said restrictions like bans on under 18s were a sensible measure, however if governments ultimately decided to phase solariums out, "public health would be the winner."

ARPANSA Senior Research Scientist, Dr Peter Gies, said the research showed large variability in UV outputs from tanning beds, making it difficult for operators to predict the effects of each session and creating the potential for overexposure.

"The dose of UV delivered varied significantly for sunbeds of similar power - in one establishment three of the eight-minute sunbeds recorded UV index ranges of 31.3, 40.7 and 48.6, while the 10-minute sunbed measured 20.6," he said. "Three tanning units emitted levels above the Australian Standard's allowed maximum UV index of 36."

Dr Gies said it was difficult for consumers or operators to test how intense a sunbed was, which was of concern, considering 10 minutes of exposure could lead to severe sunburn, depending on which bed they used. "There were also considerable differences in the UV intensity levels emitted from the top and bottom of some sunbeds - up to as much as 40 per cent," Dr Gies said.

About the research

ARPANSA scientists visited a number of tanning establishments during 2008 to measure ultraviolet radiation emissions to assist in the development of the 2008 Australian/New Zealand Standard on the safe use of solaria for cosmetic purposes. The paper, UVR Emissions from Solaria in Australia and Implications for the Regulation Process, is published in Photochemistry and Photobiology.

Cancer Council Australia