Solariums might kill you, but they are far from dead.
Like smoking, asbestos, and clotted cream, solariums are one of those things older generations try valiantly to convince the younger folk were not dangerous ‘back then’. They were simply fads, hobbies, habits: normal and everyday activities that apparently nobody knew would eventually kill you.
But, like cigarettes, solariums are holding on tight to their addicts. Following the nationwide ban on solariums from January 1, 2015, (with the exception of Western Australia, who are set to join at the end of this year) there has been an explosion of dodgy backyard setups and illegal tanning beds cropping up across the country.
Salon owners have snubbed the $1,000 payback offer from the Government to turn in their beds for safe disposal, trying their hand instead of selling the beds – which are purchased new for almost $30,000 – online. Or, continuing to operate under secretive circumstances.
I first heard about the illegal tanning ring from my friend Jimmy. He was looking particularly fresh and glowing. “Look at you, princess,” I said. “Got a shag last night?”
“Quick visit to Dr Botox?”
“You slept in?”
“Nope. I’ve been to the solarium.”
Aghast, I started to grill him. Where was the solarium? How much did it cost him? How did he find it? Didn’t he care he would give himself skin cancer? Admittedly – he looked great. But jeez, a solarium? It felt so outdated…so wrong.
Scratch below the surface and the frequency of Jimmy’s story is nothing short of scary. After putting out the call on social media, I received emails from 11 different people spilling the beans on their illegal tanning routine. Of these 11, eight were men – straight men. Some were personal trainers, others were models, but mostly, these were your everyday corporate folk with no actual aesthetic need for a tan, just a driving obsession that most had been curating for decades.
One friend, Paul, lives in Melbourne and works as an accountant. He was always a tanned, healthy looking kind of guy, but I was truly surprised to learn that his tan was actually the result of a solarium bed. He told me that his solarium not only still operates in broad daylight, didn’t even get rid of the beds. Instead, they simply changed the bulbs from blue, to pink. Apparently they’re less harmful.
Me: “How would you describe the new beds?”
Paul: “I would say that it’s barely noticeable what the actual beds do…maybe it’s just a placebo effect. But I do think it works slightly nonetheless. With the old solariums I would get a huge tan line, but with these ones it’s not as pronounced.”
Me: “So why do you keep going, with the risk of cancer?”
Paul: “I feel like it does something and my skin feels better doing it. I think I’m just addicted to it. I don’t have breakouts etc when I tan also…I think they call it tanorexia! Haha.”
‘Tanorexia’ is a term usually reserved for jokes about particularly tangerine fake tans, but is very much a real and dangerous condition.
Biochemical evidence indicates that tanning addicts are addicted to an opioid release experienced during tanning. When frequent tanners took an endorphin blocker in a 2006 study, they experienced severe withdrawal symptoms, while infrequent tanners experienced no withdrawal symptoms under the same conditions.
The study revealed that tanning addicts suffer from similar withdrawal symptoms to alcoholics or smokers; that is – nausea, dizziness, and the shakes.
So, in a time where we are well aware of the addictive and even fatal results tanning beds and solariums can cause, why do we ruthlessly pursue a tan? And how on earth are these secret solariums still running?