Australians are leading the world in their obsession for that 'bronzed and beautiful' look. But unfortunately, this is not a healthy trend, opine researchers.
According to a report published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the increases in people going in for tanning sessions are alarming.
This is particularly so when considered in the light of accumulating evidence of the association between sunbed use and increased risks of melanoma, as well as common misconceptions that solarium tanning is relatively harmless.
At particular risk are those under 15 and those with extremely fair skin. Hence the report calls for stringent control over tanning parlors and moves for spreading awareness on the risks of artificial tanning.
The Cancer Council survey of Yellow Pages advertisements shows that the number of solariums in Australia's capital cities have swelled from 97 in 1996 to 406 in 2006 - a 320 per cent rise.
Most extreme is noted to be Perth, which recorded a 1000 per cent increase from five to 55 clinics in the period.
Melbourne has topped the record for the most clinics, with 169 listed, three times more than Sydney, which registered a 100 per cent rise to 63 clinics. Numbers in all other capitals rose by between 70 and 400 per cent of over the period except the Northern Territory, which has no listings.
Alarmed skin cancer experts are now calling for tougher regulation of the tanning industry and moves to curb the solarium businesses; most of which do not adhere to customer health regulations.
Cancer Council Victoria's SunSmart program manager, Kylie Strong, says the actual number of solariums could be higher as many, such as those located in beauty salons and fitness centers, might not be listed.
Says Strong:" The increase is really dramatic and the fact that we have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, yet our solarium industry is allowed to continue to grow, is a real concern."
Research by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, has shown that people who regularly use sunbeds before the age of 35 raise their risk of melanoma by as much as, 75 per cent. Young women are known to be the biggest users.
According to the director of the Victorian Melanoma Service at The Alfred hospital, Associate Professor John Kelly, solarium light was five times as dangerous as midday summer sun. He has seen patients develop melanomas after 18 months of intensive solarium use.
Professor Kelly supports WHO calls for the practice to be regulated if not banned.