A multi-billion dollar tanning industry has been spawned out of the modern day quest for the bronzed body beautiful. And though people are becoming increasingly aware of the health problems associated with a sun tan, this is an industry which is proving tough to regulate.
You certainly can't stop people from going out in the sun, sun bed use hasn't been outlawed and the possible health risks of tanning pills are hotly debated.
The mega rich sunscreen industry offers us a lotion for every type of skin from baby soft to black and for every type of tan from gentle gold to sun-goddess bronze. And it's all perfectly legit and above board. The industry is now making some effort at self regulation. Sunscreen manufacturers know more people are aware of the dangers of sunbathing these days, so they are producing higher factor (and higher priced) lotions. Some put warnings on their products advising users when the sun should be avoided and how long they should stay out in it.
But critics claim that sun seekers are being lulled into a false sense of security by the belief that they can spend longer in the sun because they use a higher factor lotion. In fact most high factor sunscreens have little or no more protection than a factor 15.
Are sunscreens all that?
According to a recent study by British doctors many sun tan lotions don't offer any protection against skin cancer. Tests revealed that many high factor lotions, although they prevented the skin from burning, did not stop the sun's harmful rays from penetrating the skin. Many of the lotions tested carried a star indicator showing the level of protection against the damaging UVA rays. The more stars the better the level of protection. Some of these lotions were found to be less effective than their star rating suggested.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on governments to regulate sunscreens in the same way as medicines but this appears to be some way off.
The sun bed industry has a poor track record on self regulation. Some operators warn clients about the possible adverse effects of artificial tanning but many don't bother and prefer to emphasize the perceived benefits. Coin operated sun booths are starting to spring up in some countries. No-one's on hand to advise customers and even children have access to them.
Sun Bed Regulation
In America the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is clamping down on sun bed manufacturers, requiring them to provide warning labels as well as advice on wearing protective goggles. But in the majority of European countries there are no standard regulations relating to use. Some countries, including Sweden and Belgium , operate similarly to the FDA and require warnings to be issued. France goes further with all sun beds being registered with the health authority. Under-18s can't use them and all establishments have to be supervised.
In Britain a large number of local authorities have taken it upon themselves to ban sun bed use in their leisure centers - however this is not a government requirement. The more responsible sun bed operators issue health warnings and there are calls from both the industry itself and cancer organizations to ban under-16s from using sun beds.
And what about tanning pills? These are regarded by many countries as a "dietary supplement" so as long as they don't claim any health, preventative or curative properties; they are marketable without any controls. They contain carotenoid color additives which at best turn you orange and if taken in high doses can induce vomiting and stomach upsets.