As the weather turns warmer, the temptation to tan grows for many Australians.
But the message that ‘no tan is safe’ is easily mislaid amongst the Instagram filters and beauty standards that sell the glowing bronze ideal.
There is now, however, growing pressure in the news for makers of tanning products to be more responsible. Imogen Timms from the Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that ‘it’s time for brands which leverage that desire for a classic “Aussie” tan to recognise the harm they present to an impressionable audience’.
Tanning guidelines in Australia
Australia has historically been ahead of other countries when it comes to skin safety health standards. For instance, solariums and tanning beds were first banned in New South Wales in December 2014. Other states soon joined in, and by January 2016 were echoing the cries of Clare Oliver who started the lobby against solariums in her final ‘no tan is worth dying for’ campaign before she passed away from melanoma at 26 years of age in 2007.
But when it comes to tanning products, it appears we are behind the times.
Products like tanning oils that contain little to no SPF are readily available, without warning to the consumer.
Professor Grant McArthur, the head of Peter MacCallum’s Molecular Oncology Laboratory reported to Timms and the Sydney Morning Herald that he believes the regulations for tanning products should be similar to that of tobacco products.
He shared that ‘tanning oils with low [below SPF 15] or no SPF could be required through regulation to display prominent warnings about skin cancer risks on their packaging.’
They are, after all, encouraging activities that put people’s lives at risk.
What do other countries do?
It is surprising to many that rules like these have not already been instituted, with countries like the United States that still allow the use of tanning beds already imposing them.
The American FDA guidelines call for any cosmetic product that is not designed for sun safety to include the warning:
‘Warning--This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer, and other harmful effects to the skin even if you do not burn.’
Timms summarised the neglect of any Australian guidelines in her article saying, ‘Our regulations need to recognise the impressionable market that tanning oils typically target, and the amount of damage they could inflict.’
Why the push for tanning product regulation?
Skin cancer statistics in Australia are scary.
More people die from skin cancer than they do transport accidents, and two out of three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives.
Worse still, one Australian is diagnosed with skin cancer every 30 minutes, and one Australian dies from it every hour.
In fact, Australia has the highest population incidence of skin cancer in the world, with new research this year showing that the incidence percentage has increased from 2-6% every year for the last 30 years.
Changing tides for tanning in popular culture
Thankfully, the case for skin cancer awareness and sun safety has not fallen on deaf ears, with many celebrities and influencers getting behind the sun safety cause.
While beauty standards remain in favour of a glowing tan, the social push has started to turn to sun safety. Sun safety has started to become a common part of influencers’ beauty regimes, and posts from their summer holidays include more and more sun safe messages.
This is good news, as studies are beginning to show that social media interventions are proven to make a strong impact in the effort to change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards tanning and sun safety.
What can you do about tanning products?
Firstly, stay away from tanning products and make sure you are well informed about the products you are using.
Indoor tanning with tanning products is still dangerous, regardless of the lack of sun involved. All it takes is one indoor tanning session before the age of 35, and you increase your risk of skin cancer by 75%.
Know that no tan is a safe tan, even if acquired indoors. The skin’s change in pigment reflects damage that has happened to the skin cells. Damage that can ultimately lead to serious and life-threatening conditions like melanoma.
If the issue of unregulated tanning products upsets you (and rightly so!), join the effort in raising awareness and lobbying for change.
Write to the companies you see engaging in what can only be considered false advertising and a negation of their responsibilities to care for their consumers by leaving warnings off their labels.
Write to your MP and engage their support on the matter.
Importantly, share the message with your friends and family so they too are aware of the dangerous products they could be using.
Concerned for your skin?
If this message and awareness has come to you ‘too late’, then visit your local skin cancer clinic and start getting regular skin checks. This is good practice for all Australians, regardless of their skin history.
While you are there, you can express your concerns to your doctor who can advise the best course of action and give you peace of mind at each visit. Regular skin checks mean that there are no big health surprises lurking around the corner later in your life.
Finally, remember that it’s never too late to start practicing sun safety and caring for your skin.