Sunbed operators misleading claims

Issue 28 – June 2011

This article is reproduced from Consumer magazine, March 2011, with permission from Consumer New Zealand.

Consumer New Zealand and the Cancer Society have lodged a complaint with the Commerce Commission about misleading claims being made by some sunbed operators at their premises or on their websites. Here are the sorts of claims we are concerned about – and why.

Claim: Sunbeds boost our vitamin D – and vitamin D is beneficial for the prevention of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and multiple sclerosis.

We say: A 2010 report commissioned by the US and Canadian governments found that vitamin D was helpful for bone health but not for other health conditions. This conclusion is supported by seven UK health agencies.

Claim: The benefits derived from vitamin D and the feeling of wellness when we have a tan outweigh the manageable risks of UV exposure.

We say: There's no evidence that sunbed use offers any health benefits – quite the contrary. A review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that people who've used a sunbed have a 15%% increased risk of melanoma and people who first used a sunbed before the age of 35 have a 75% increased risk.

Claim: Sunbeds give a consistent exposure compared with the sun, which varies depending on the time of year and day. This is why sunbeds are a great way to get a controlled dose of vitamin D.

We say: There's no such thing as a 'safe tan'. The New Zealand Standard allows solaria to emit UV radiation that's three times the strength of the midday summer sun.

Claim: Sunscreen's not the elixir of youth or the cancer cure-all that it pretends to be – so be wary of sunscreen.

We say: Suggesting that consumers should be wary of using sunscreen is a dangerous statement. Correctly applied sunscreen can provide protection against UV radiation and there's recent evidence that it can reduce the risk of melanoma.

Claim: Developing a tan indoors will provide a measure of natural protection for your skin.

We say: According to IARC there's no evidence that sunbed use protects you against skin damage from subsequent sun exposure. Consumer NZ and the Cancer Society are concerned consumers are being lulled into a false sense of security by claims that sunbeds are safe and have health benefits. Sunbed operators in Australia and the US have been forced to withdraw or modify their false claims. It's time New Zealand operators were too.

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