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A “Sun Scare” Conspiracy?

Sun Scare
What do you know about tanning beds?

Media sensations like the New Jersey Tanning Mom, aggressive skin cancer awareness raising ad campaigns and proposed legislation in many states continually keep the dangers of indoor tanning a major focus of Americans’ health consciousness. While scientific research continues to find new evidence that supports the conclusion that UV radiation is carcinogenic, the tanning industry is borrowing a defense strategy from Big Tobacco—label the medical community’s awareness-raising efforts a conspiracy and proceed to give the “real” facts about the benefits of indoor tanning.

The Conspiracy Theory

According to an August 23, 2012 article posted on Fair Warnings and picked up by medicalspaMD, the tanning industry is claiming that the medical community’s warnings about the dangers of indoor tanning is a profit-motivated scare campaign. By perpetuating and exacerbating a vitamin D deficiency epidemic, tanning advocates and lobbyists claim that doctors, essentially, protect their own financial interests by driving demand for their healthcare services.

Tanning advocates, on the other hand, are the informational source to be trusted, delivering the message of tanning’s ability to boost vitamin D and its cancer-preventing benefits.

The Problem with the Argument

The tanning industry’s claim that the medical community’s “Sun Scare Conspiracy” is profit-driven is ironic. After all, isn’t profit what the tanning industry is trying to protect and increase by discrediting the medical community’s warnings?

But aside from a case of the pot calling the kettle black, the tanning industry’s conspiracy theory is concerning because of its potential to confuse and mislead people about the facts of indoor tanning’s causal link to skin cancer.

These are the proven facts about indoor tanning (from Skin Cancer Foundation):

  • UV radiation is a proven human carcinogen.
  • Indoor tanning just 4 times a year increases basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma risks by 15% and melanoma risk by 11%.
  • People who indoor tan are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than people who have never tanned indoors
  • The risk for melanoma is 87% greater for people who begin indoor tanning before the age of 35.

New research is also showing that the brain’s reward centers respond to UV exposure, indicating the potential for UV exposure (i.e. indoor and outdoor tanning) to be addictive.

The tanning industry, however, downplays the risks. In the “D-Angel Empowerment Training” video created by International Smart Tan Network, tanning salon employees are given talking points about Vitamin D’s benefits and indoor tanning as a vital source of Vitamin D. However, employees are instructed to use these talking points outside the salon. Inside the salon, claims about indoor tanning’s risks and benefits must be much more conservative to comply with state and federal regulations. But undercover investigators found that many tanning salon employees were not completely honest about the health risks of indoor tanning.

After calling 300 tanning salons around the country, investigators found that:

  • 90% of tanning salon employee said tanning posed no health risks
  • 51% of tanning salon employees denied any link between indoor tanning and increased skin cancer risk

Compliance with indoor tanning bans for minors is also spotty.

Furthermore, the benefits of Vitamin D that D-Angels are encouraged to share are not always medically sound claims. While research suggests Vitamin D deficiency as a potential cause or contributing factor to many health care concerns, evidence does not conclusively show that adequate Vitamin D levels can lower the risk of certain cancers.

The Take-Away

UV radiation and its role in the increased incidence of melanoma and other skin cancers in recent decades has, certainly, become a major focus of the skin care industry and medical community. The tone of patient education materials designed to raise awareness about the link between UV exposure and increased skin cancer risk and effective sun protection strategies can be scary, but the seriousness of melanoma and other skin cancer risks warrant it.

Is there reason to exercise caution when it comes to UV exposure? Yes.

Do you need to be afraid of the sun? No.

You can safely enjoy the sunshine and the health benefits of natural Vitamin D production by practicing adequate sun safety:

  • Limit sun exposure when the sun is at its highest intensity
  • Wear sunscreen (min. SPF 15) daily, and reapply as necessary if you will be out in the sun for extended periods of time
  • Wear protective clothing (broad-brimmed hat, long sleeves, etc.) when you know you will be in the sun for extended period of time
  • Eat a diet high in antioxidants

If you have questions about Vitamin D levels and sun safety concerns, talk to your doctor about supplementing Vitamin D through your diet (not indoor tanning).

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