WHO: 'It's best not to use sun beds'

Governments should pass laws on the responsible use of sun beds and ban their use by people under the age of 18, the United Nations health agency said on Thursday.

The increased popularity of artificial tanning machines is a key reason for the rapid increase in skin cancer, particularly among young women in Europe and North America, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

“Exposure to sun lamps is a known cancer-causing agent to humans,” said Mike Repacholi, a radiation expert at the WHO. “We feel it’s best not to use sun beds.”

The incidence of skin cancer has doubled in the United States over the past 30 years, and more than tripled since 1960 in Nordic countries, the WHO said.

“People want to enjoy the sun—we just want to make sure they do it in a safe way,” Repacholi said. “Episodes of sunburn when you are young predispose you to skin cancer.”

The WHO is providing a list of recommendations on the proper use of tanning machines, which include spending only short periods under sun lamps, protecting the eyes, a gradual increase in usage and mandatory supervision.

Only Sweden, France and Belgium have national legislation limiting the amount of ultraviolet rays sun beds may emit.
French regulations are the most extensive, banning the use of tanning devices to people under 18 and requiring all sun beds to be checked regularly by health authorities.

Last year, California’s state Senate sounded rejected a proposed Bill to ban minors from using tanning salons without a doctor’s authorisation, but those under 18 still are required to have parental permission.

“It is not just skin cancers that sun beds provide but it’s also malignant melanoma, which is the really deadly form of skin cancer,” Repacholi said.

The incidence of melanoma—a type of skin cancer particularly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation—increases significantly for women who regularly use sun beds, Swedish and Norwegian studies have shown.

The highest rates of melanoma—which usually begin in a mole—are found in countries with a culture of sun-tanning and fair-skinned populations, such as Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe, Repacholi said.

But he warned that Eastern Europe, the fastest-growing market for sun beds, is also an area of concern for the WHO.

“It’s getting into the developing countries, Eastern European countries particularly,” he said. “We don’t really have a good handle on how many devices there are [in Eastern Europe], but their prevalence is huge.”

Each year, more than two million people—half of whom live in the US—develop skin cancer, and 132 000 are found to have malignant melanoma, the WHO estimates.

Repacholi said the devices also have been linked with other health threats, such as cataracts and weakened immune systems.—Sapa-AP

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