Solariums and Fake Tans

In June 2013, the ACT Government announced a total ban on commercial solariums in Canberra, the new ban comes into effect at the end of 2014. Cancer Council ACT applauds the Government’s decision to ban solariums in Canberra.

Solarium Ban

In June 2013, the ACT Government announced a total ban on commercial solariums in Canberra. The new ban came into place 1 January 2015. Cancer Council ACT supported the ban and applauds the ACT Government's decision. View Government Media Release 13/6/2013.

What is a tan?

Skin cells called melanocytes in the top layer of skin (known as the epidermis) produce a pigment called melanin that gives skin its natural tone/colour. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, more melanin is produced, causing the skin to darken. This is a ‘tan’. A tan is a sign of skin being damaged as it attempts to protect itself against UV damage. It is not a sign of good health.

Will a solarium tan, or any tan, protect my skin?

No. Tanning without burning can still cause skin damage, premature skin ageing and skin cancer. 1

A natural tan offers very limited sunburn protection, usually similar to an SPF4 sunscreen, depending on the skin type.2 The melanin produced by fair-skinned people is much less protective, meaning no amount of sunbaking will result in a tan, just sunburn and skin damage.3 People who sunburn and never tan in the sun will not tan in a solarium.

Every time skin is exposed to the sun or a solarium, the total lifetime dose of UV radiation is increased. Over time, this damage adds up.

Why did ACT ban solariums?

Because solariums are not safe. The more exposure to UV radiation from any source, the greater the chance of cell damage, skin ageing and skin cancer. Compare the skin under your arm (with the skin above) to see very clearly the damage caused by years of exposure to the sun's UV.

In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) added ultraviolet emitting tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category (Category 1) labeling them as ‘carcinogenic to humans”. 4

A systematic review showed that people who use a solarium before the age of 35 have a 59% greater risk of melanoma than those who do not use solariums. There is a 20% risk increase in melanoma regardless of age of first use of a solarium.5

Other health hazards of solariums

If the eyes are exposed to UVA radiation from a solarium, the cornea and the conjunctiva may be briefly inflamed, and sight can sometimes be permanently damaged.

Up to half the people who use solariums develop minor skin irritations such as redness, itchiness and dryness. Solariums can also aggravate existing rashes. If solarium use is excessive, short-term effects may be burning and blistering. In the long term, skin will age prematurely and skin cancer may develop.

Some cosmetics and prescription drugs, including some antibiotics, drugs for high blood pressure, antidepressants, some medicines for skin conditions, drugs that suppress the immune system (as used after organ transplants) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can increase a person’s sensitivity to UVA radiation. 6 Use of a solarium under these conditions may result in severe sunburn; it can also cause an itchy and painful rash followed by blotchy darker patches on the skin and damage the eyes.

UV radiation from solariums (like the sun) has been shown to cause changes in the body’s immune system. It is not yet known how important these changes are.

Fake tans

Fake tanning lotions, sprays and creams contain synthetic or vegetable dyes that temporarily stain the skin, giving a tanned appearance. The dye binds to the skin and comes off when the dead skin cells flake off. The fake tan usually lasts up to a week, depending on the product. Generally fake tans offer little if any protection from UV. Some brands advertise that they include a high SPF sunscreen. As with other sunscreens, these provide only short-term protection for about two hours after it is applied.

This protection does not last for the length of the tan and hence a combination of the 5 sun protection measures are still necessary.

If using a fake tan product, it is important to remember that the product will not protect you from the sun’s UVR so you must still consider a combination of sun protection measures when outdoors.

There is no current evidence to suggest that DHA (dihydroxyacetone), a common ingredient found in self tanning products, can cause cancer. If you are concerned about exposure to DHA then protect your eyes and lips, and avoid breathing in the mist.

Cancer Council does not promote the perception that tanned skin is more desirable than natural pale skin.

Vitamin D

Using a solarium will not assist with your body’s Vitamin D needs, this is because Vitamin D derives from the UVB wavelength found in the sun, and not the UVA that is emitted in a solarium. Both UVA and UVB have been proven to cause skin cell damage and skin cancer. Most Australians produce enough vitamin D through the sun exposure they receive from their day-to-day activities, even with sensible sun protection. 7

Further information and resources

This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For further information or advice contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 or view Cancer Council Australia's Position Statement: Solariums.

This information can be photocopied for distribution. 


1. Raab WP. Photodamaged skin: a medical or a cosmetic concerInt MedRes 1990;18(Suppl 3): 2c–7c. 

2. Gange RW et al. Comparative protection efficiency of UVA- and UVB- induced tans against erythema and formation of endonucleasesensitive sites in DNA by UVB in human skin. Invest Dermatol 1985;85(4): 362–4.

3. Wu C. Unravelling the mystery of melanin: Does a tan protect skin from sun damage or contribute to it? Science News 1999;156:190–1.

4. El Ghissassi F, Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, Bouvard V, et al. A review of human carcinogens--part D: radiation. Lancet Oncol 2009 Aug;10(8):751-2 [Abstract available at].

5. Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012 Jul 24;345:e4757 [Abstract available at].

6. Dubakienò R, Kuprienò M. Scientific problems of photosensitivity. Medicina (Kaunas) 2006;42: 619–24.

7. Samanek, Amanda J, et al. Estimates of beneficial and harmful sun exposure times during the year for major Australian population centres. Med J Aust 2006;184(7): 338-41.

Last updated August 2019.

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