Sunbed risks underscored

BRUSSELS – The danger inherent in tanning by artificial means such as sunbeds has been highlighted in a European Commission announcement. People under the age of 18 or who have sensitive skin should avoid artificial tanning and sunbathing, which is equally dangerous, the EC noted. As EU Industry Commissioner Gunther Verheugen and Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou pointed out, «the use of ultraviolet radiation, sunlamps and solariums in order to acquire and maintain a tan for aesthetic reasons can increase the risk of malignant melanoma and other skin diseases.» So, the report continues, people who are in high-risk categories, «namely those with skins with a tendency to sunburn, little or no ability to tan, freckles, numerous or irregular moles, and a family history of melanoma should not use artificial tanning devices.» And in no case should those under the age of 18 use them, since they are at greater risk of melanoma. While the report makes it clear that the evidence currently available does not demonstrate that tanning devices are any more dangerous than exposure to the sun, this should not make us less wary of the sun. As Kyprianou noted, the main problem is that some people supplement their time spent sunbathing with time in the solarium. In fact most sunbed aficionados are also believed to be fanatical sunbathers. This makes it very hard to draw reliable conclusions about the risks of such devices, though it leaves no doubt about the dangers of solar radiation, be it natural or artificial. In 2000, according to the report, 35,000 cases of melanoma were recorded in Europe, of which 9,000 were fatal. All of them were due to excessive exposure to infrared and ultraviolet radiation. This is in addition to other forms of skin cancer and the skin aging that is the most visible sign of long-term exposure to the sun and sunlamps. The Commission expressed its determination to inaugurate a campaign to alert people to the dangers of solariums and, eventually, to propose legal restrictions on the use of artificial tanning devices.