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Tanning salons, whose equipment emits dangerous UV rays no less powerful than the sun, should be avoided, the Health Ministry and the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) announced on Tuesday in an unusual joint statement.
Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli and ICA director-general Miri Ziv said that salon tanning can lead not only to melanoma and other forms of skin cancer, but also vision damage, rashes, premature and irreversible wrinkling and pigmented spots on the skin.
Weekly and even daily visits to such salons, which are widely advertised as "safe tanning," are very popular in the winter. But experts insist that artificial ultraviolet rays are at least as dangerous as those produced by the sun.
Yisraeli said that after consulting with experts and studying the medical literature, he became convinced that UV rays such as those produced by tanning salon devices cause much harm to the skin.
"We considered ways of controlling them by setting down a standard, but a ministry standard for tanning salons would mean giving them legitimacy and would be liable to increase their popularity," Yisraeli said.
"We are examining the possibility of legislation that would require tanning salons to warn customers of potential damage by posting signs."
Ziv noted that tanning beds may be even more dangerous than tanning in the sun. "There is no safe or healthful tanning of any kind," she said, adding that "it is most risky for children and teenagers."
Israel is not alone in issuing warnings against tanning salons. The California Dermatology Society blamed some of the million annual cases of skin cancer on tanning salons. And last August, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a prohibition of minors using tanning salons in his state.
The World Health Organization recommended that access to tanning salons be prohibited at least to minors, that adults be warned in writing and that tanning be carried out under strict supervision.
Tanning salons in the US and Europe have organized a lobby to oppose regulation and supervision that would prohibit them from admitting minors.
The British Journal of Dermatology published a study in 2003 showing that six percent of deaths from melanoma - the most malignant type of skin cancer - resulted from artificial tanning in such salons. US studies have shown that people who reported using tanning beds were 2.5 times more at risk for squamous cell carcinoma than those who didn't tan.
Actual use of tanning salons in Israel is not known, but the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported this month that some 30 million Americans use such facilities each year.
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