Warning over Misleading Sunbed Claims

(PR.co.nz) The Commerce Commission today put sunbed operators and distributors on notice about the risks of making false or misleading claims about the health benefits and risks of sunbed use.

In a letter to about 280 operators and distributors nationally, the Commission cautioned the industry under the Fair Trading Act about overstating the benefits of sunbed use and understating the risks.

Following a complaint from Consumer NZ and the Cancer Society about sunbed operators, the Commission asked a senior dermatologist to provide an assessment of the benefits and risks of sunbed use, based on authoritative leading studies. The operators complained about were also given a chance to respond to the allegations that their representations about sunbed use were misleading.

“We are concerned there may be a problem of misleading claims about the safety of sunbed use among sunbed distributors and operators throughout New Zealand. We are giving them information about compliance with the Fair Trading Act and raising the issue publically so that consumers are aware of what experts say can accurately be claimed about sunbed use,” said Kate Morrison, General Manager, Competition branch.

“We expect the industry to comply with the Fair Trading Act and hope that informed consumers will question the claims the sunbed operators make. The letter to the industry is a first step to inform operators and distributors of the prohibitions under the Fair Trading Act. We will be following up to ensure they comply with the Act,” Ms Morrison said.

“If false or misleading representations are made in the future, the Commission can consider other enforcement options,” she said.

The dermatologist’s assessment was that short-wavelength Ultraviolet B light was carcinogenic and there was increasing evidence the longer wavelength Ultraviolet A used in sunbeds penetrated the skin more deeply and could lead to skin cancer. Photo-aging of the skin, and eye damage, including the formation of cataracts, were other risks of exposure to UV light through sunbed use.

They also advised that the UV light on a sunbed did not replicate the sun’s light, and light in modern sunbeds was not healthier than natural sunlight. The advice also concludes there are minimal health benefits associated with sunbed use.

In relation to claims about health benefits of Vitamin D exposure, the dermatologist’s advice was that the exact nature of any benefits associated with Vitamin D was unclear and the majority of the population would get enough Vitamin D from incidental exposure from the sun. There was also no evidence that sunbed tanning provided natural protection against sunburn, or inhibited melanoma.

Media Release from Commerce Commission, 23 August 2011.