Experts warn about ‘collarium’ tanning beds

By Steven Mew

A new type of tanning bed, called collariums, are being advertised for use in commercial settings around Australia, despite tanning beds being banned for commercial use in Australia since as early as 2015.

The collarium sunbeds are claimed to provide “tanning with the additional benefits of collagen stimulation”, but what do we actually know about them?

Tanning beds, or solariums consist of a bed lined with ultraviolet tanning lamps and are used to give people a cosmetic tan. They have been classified as a Grade 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer – the same category as cigarettes and asbestos, since 2009.

Professor Marion Eckert from the University of South Australia told the AusSMC that collariums are being marketed as a safer alternative to traditional tanning beds because they primarily emit a type of radiation called UVA radiation.

“Some companies promote collariums as a ‘safer way of tanning’ due to this emphasis on UVA radiation and the purported collagen-stimulating benefits.”

“However, it’s important to note that UVA radiation, while less likely to cause immediate sunburn, can still penetrate deep into the skin and contribute to long-term skin damage and increased cancer risk,” she said.

According to Professor Eckert, the claim of stimulating collagen production is also likely to be exaggerated or misleading, given that excessive UV exposure can break down collagen and accelerate skin ageing.

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Previous research has found that people who use a solarium before the age of 35 have a 59% greater risk of melanoma. Australia already has the highest melanoma rates in the world, with one Aussie dying from melanoma every 6 hours. Professor Grant McArthur from the University of Melbourne says that any kind of tan is the result of damage to skin cells.

“Tanning itself is a sign of skin cells in trauma due to DNA damage activating a stress response that increases pigment in the skin, a tan.”

“Broad spectrum sunscreens active against broad wavelengths of UV radiation are strongly recommended for protection to UV radiation, as there is no safe UV radiation.”

Given the tan-ban that already exists on solariums in Australia, the Australian regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) says they are investigating what regulations are needed to protect people from the health impact of UV radiation in cosmetic procedures like these collariums.

“If loopholes exist in commercial solaria regulations to allow UV to be used for other procedures this is something we will investigate because we know that overexposure to UV radiation causes skin cancer,” said Associate Professor Ken Karipidis, ARPANSA’s Health Impact Assessment Assistant Director.

But for experts, there’s no question about the risk of tanning beds like collariums.

“People should not be confused about sun beds and cancer risks,” said Dr Joseph Scott from the University of the Sunshine Coast

“The research is very clear. The use of ‘sunbeds’ will increase your risk of developing melanoma and skin cancer.”

“These machines work by providing direct UV radiation to the skin. So, whether it’s marketed to you as a ‘sunbed’, a ‘solarium’ or ‘collarium’, if you use it, you will have significantly greater risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers,” he said.

You can read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction here.
This article originally appeared in Science Deadline, a weekly newsletter from the AusSMC. You are free to republish this story, in full, with appropriate credit.

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