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Stephanie Gelber
Stephanie Gelber
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The Great Tanning Bed Safety Debate

3 comments

In the next issue of The Safety Report you will see an article I have written about the dangers of tanning beds. In the interim, the debate continues and I can’t resist commenting on the recent sparring between the newly formed American Suntanning Association (“ASA”) and the American Academy of Dermatology. ASA was organized in December of 2012 and is made up (so far) of 1,400 tanning salon owners. It is a $5 billion industry which has been forced to defend itself against the link between tanning bed use and the significant increase in skin cancer and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in our teenage and young adult population.

As part of ASA’s public relations campaign it created a website, which has as part of its URL “tanresponsibly”. Upon learning that I had high hopes for the organization and initially gave it kudos. That is where my compliments must end, however, because the views expressed on the website are overly simplistic and neither reasonable nor responsible. As an example, on the “Check Out the Facts – Discerning the Myths form the Facts” page, which has several gems on it, ASA notes that:

Studies linking tanning to increased risks of skin cancer are complex. To date, there are no studies proving a “causal” relationship between moderate tanning and melanoma skin cancer.

ASA has defended its new public relations campaign as one of necessity due to what it appears to believe is some sort of conspiracy between the American Academy of Dermatology and the government. As discussed in an article written today by Fair Warning, a Los Angeles based investigative news organization focused on public health and safety issues, ASA set out its strategy in a document on its letterhead posted last month on Tan Today:

Indoor tanning has been accused of causing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer by the World Health Organization and others based on quasi-scientific reports that the ASA believes are flawed and biased. The dermatological community appears to be united in their efforts to drive indoor tanning salons out of business, and the ASA believes they are spending $5 million or more annually to this end.

In my opinion, it was a huge public relations mistake by this infant organization to suggest that the $5 million public service campaign launched to warn our youth about the increased cancer risks associated with the use of tanning beds is premised on a conspiracy against the tanning bed industry. The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind.

As pointed out by the experts at the American Academy of Dermatology:

The recent statements by the American Suntanning Association (ASA) are ridiculous and there is no data to support them. Indoor tanning is dangerous. There is compelling scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed medical journals demonstrating that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. …

The bottom line is that as physicians who treat skin cancer, dermatologists are committed to saving lives and protecting the public from the dangers of UV exposure. We discourage anyone from seeking a tan, whether it’s from the sun or from indoor tanning.

As aptly noted by Elizabeth Tracey, in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Podblog:

It's probably time to relegate tanning beds to the dump heap, along with cigarettes and other human inventions known to cause cancer… In the face of abundant evidence of the dangers of these devices, it is astonishing to me that anyone would continue to use them. In light of the age and dose relationships, parents should clearly discourage their children from tanning bed use. Perhaps at some point enough public will will accrue and the devices will simply stop being made. For now, avoidance is the clear message.

There is undoubtedly enough evidence to warrant high suspicion as to the safety of tanning beds, with no evidence whatsoever to support any plot to overthrow the tanning bed industry. I know that nothing is black or white, but that doesn't mean we should accept tan….. that is from a tanning bed.

3 Comments

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    Great article Stephanie.

    Reminds me of Big Tobacco with their organized and dogmatic efforts to deny the link between smoking and cancer.

    To suggest there isn’t a clear evidence to link UV exposure from tanning (in a bed or on the beach) and melanoma is like denying that exposure to radiation can give you cancer…oh wait a minute UV is radiation isn’t it?

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Alexander Healy says:
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    As far as I can ascertain, this is a website that encourages legal debate. It seems disingenuous to discuss such a complex medical issue. I am a dermatological scientist and as such, feel that I need to provide some facts here. Stephanie has approached this on the presumption that using a sunbed per se is dangerous. It is not. Her perception only becomes reality when compelling facts are proven.

    Let’s be clear, there is no clinical data relating sunbeds and melanoma, only interview based recollections. Millions of people have regularly used a professional sunbed, responsibly, for many years. They don’t burn. The scaremongering is so misleading. It’s all about getting the biggest emotional reaction, regardless of the facts and relates to burning and fair skinned people who should not tan.
    The vast majority of people can tan, without burning and as a result maintain Vitamin D levels, so important for good health. Responsible use of a professional sunbed is perfectly healthy, it’s abuse by an extremely small minority of silly people that the media so enjoy reporting.

    This story has been dressed up and trussed to scaremonger and nothing more. It’s time to stop the scaremongering and for education on responsible tanning

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    Alexander-

    I not only appreciate debate but am always open to learning about other people’s perspectives. Since you are suggesting that the premise of my blog is incorrect, I would welcome information about the resources you have considered in formulating your position. On another note, are you related to Jessica Alexander Healy, the dermatologist from St. Paul, Minnesota?