Do you look at your pale and freckly limbs at the start of summer and bemoan your Celtic heritage? Is the annual clarion cry for women to ditch the tights as spring ebbs into summer a time of deep, deep loathing? Summer is all about bright evenings, long, hazy weekends and the clink of ice in a glass of cider. But thanks, Coco Chanel, for also making it synonymous in the beauty and fashion industry for it being a time when to be anything other than tanned suggests you’re not trying hard enough.
But the fact is, our desire for a tan is anything but healthy. And the majority of those who turn to sunbeds for a fix are dangerously ignorant of the risks linking sunbed use with skin cancer. We are particularly – terminally – bad at it in Liverpool. In the past 14 years the number of new cases of women in Liverpool diagnosed with malignant melanomas has increased by 129%. That’s more than double the increase nationally. Yet skin cancer is perhaps one of the most preventable types of skin damage.
If you use a sunbed once or more in a month you can increase the risk of skin cancer by 50%. That’s the message that Dr Sandra Davies, the Interim Director of Public Health at Liverpool City Council wants to keep hammering home. It’s about making informed decisions, knowing about the risks and making sure sunbed salons are telling the people, especially those at increased risk, what the dangers are.
Liverpool Council has form here. Last year they launched a stinging attack on the sunbed industry. Now they’ve launched an e-petition calling for new legislation to license sunbed salons and secure better sunbed standards.
To back it up the council surveyed more 900 people in the city. Most of the people they talked to were women, the average age was around 21 to 30.
Shockingly, 83% of the people they asked didn’t know that if you used a sunbed you increased your risk of skin cancer. Younger people are more at risk. Those with the fairest skin, known as type 1 and type 2 are another group at risk of developing skin cancer. 82% of them didn’t know about the link.
Pop down some places in Liverpool – Anfield and Garston, say- and you’ll see no shortage of sunbed sessions on offer in beauty parlours, or even at the back of shops. It is, say the council a “ticking health time bomb”. These places don’t need to tell you about the health risks, they don’t have to train staff, they don’t have to warn you that your pale skin could increase your chances of getting skin cancer. Hey, they don’t even have to tell you to wear protective goggles that could leave you open to rare and potentially blinding eye cancers.
Councillor Roy Gladden is the Assistant Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health.
He bemoans the lack of powers the council has to protect people from the risks of using sun beds.
“Currently anyone who wishes to provide related cosmetic type practices such as tattooing and cosmetic piercing must be registered with their local council and adhere to health and safety standards. In light of the risks associated with sunbed use we believe there is a strong case for including sunbed operators in this list of compulsory registration schemes.”
The council’s e-petition is calling for a ten point charter for all sunbed salons to sign up to. People at an increased risk of skin cancer, those with fair skin or those under 18 should not be allowed to use them.
There’s already legislation banning under 18s from going on sunbeds but it needs to be enforced, much like Challenge 21 says the Council. All the equipment on offer needs to be maintained and every operator should be signed up and adhere to health and safety guidance.
Cancer is an utter bastard. Every person reading this knows someone who’s fought it, possibly died from it and shudders every time they hear the word. We are, rightfully, terrified of it.
Yet it is the saddest thing in the world that there are young people dying from skin cancer because they didn’t know that their regular beauty hit was damaging their health. That the seemingly benign habit of popping on the ‘beds’ to make them feel a bit more confident and happy about themselves could actually be triggering off a chain of events that could kill them.
You can sign the petition here
Share it on Twitter and follow @sunbedstandards, find the campaign at www.facebook.com/sunbedstandards and use the hashtag #sunbedstandards
Laura Brown is managing the social media for Liverpool City Council’s Sunbed Standards campaign