While reading several articles and comments on articles about tanning I am amazed at how often professional salons are blamed for skin cancer. There seems to be a lot of common misunderstandings and arguments that pop up regularly. Here are the arguments I see consistently, observations of how people view tanning, and the reactions to my pro tanning story. Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I respond to the “facts” that are attributed to how bad tanning is for you.
In just about every article about tanning, I see the World Health Organization’s statistic that when a person tans before 35, their risk of skin cancer increases by 75 percent. I’ve touched on this statistic many times in this blog before about how the data shows most of that increased risk comes from other sources of sunbeds, not professional salons. Namely the biggest contributor to that statistic is from Phototherapy treatments administered by Dermatologists. To refresh your memory, or if you haven’t read my previous posts, the risk increase associated with Phototherapy is a whopping 96 percent. Home units were found to increase the risk by 40 percent and professional salons showed an increased risk of 6 percent. It seems logical that we would want to limit phototherapy and home units instead of professional salons. Yet Dermatologists use the W.H.O. statistic as a weapon against the tanning industry. They just spout that 75 percent increased risk without disclosing that their practices are the ones that make up that percentage and in reality, professional salons bring down the average by their small risk comparatively.
It baffles my mind that law makers and the media take their statement as fact that professional salons are solely responsible for that high number. There is no accountability of how they are contributing to the risk of skin cancer. Details, details, don’t let the data’s details be known, I’m a doctor, I wear a white coat, do not doubt me, don’t look at facts, take my word for it. The arrogance by the Dermatologists I’ve seen testifying in the two legislative hearings I attended is palpable. They put on their white coats to talk about how tanning causes cancer; they don’t need to actually back up their statements or have the science behind their claims because they are wearing white coats, they went to school for a long time. The thing that is so bothersome is that much of the time, it works. For some reason no one really questions doctors, they don’t look at what the data shows, only that end result of 75 percent risk increase. For those of you that are Scrubs fans, it reminds me of when JD had his first day as a resident and he came in wearing a white coat saying to everyone he saw, “You’re going to be ok, I’m a doctor.” His attitude was people will listen to me now because I am wearing a white coat. I have seen this attitude many times when discussing the risk of skin cancer in a public forum. I question anyone who says that this equipment is so dangerous, but want to still use it to treat their own clients at an inflated price. But apparently it isn’t ok to point out hypocrisy. Think about it, what the Dermatologist lobby is pushing for when testifying to limit access of professional salons is that THEY should be allowed to be the ones increasing the risk of skin cancer because they are wearing white coats and they can bill health insurance to do it. It makes no sense.
I have a personal story proving my life has improved thanks to sunbeds used responsibly in a professional salon. I have a healthy Vitamin D level, I do not suffer the muscle aches anymore, I can exercise without pain and have lost weight as a result, and I can spend time outdoors now. My story is treated like a nice little anecdote, and an anomaly. I am not the only one with my kind of story. Since starting this blog I have been contacted by friends, family, and strangers with similar experiences. I have had people say they didn’t know what was wrong with them, and after hearing my story they had their Vitamin D level checked and found out they were severely Vitamin D deficient like me. I have had people come to me and tell me they have had trouble tolerating supplements and didn’t really know what their other options were. I am amazed at how many people have told me their Vitamin D levels that are in the single digit range. I hear these stories regularly. I think about one doctor at a legislative hearing who said that Vitamin D deficiency really isn’t a problem here in Colorado. He called it a “red herring” that the tanning industry created. That we have so much sunshine throughout the year that our state doesn’t see many cases of deficiency, as I sat behind him recalling the e-mails I have received, and texts from family and friends that live in this area who heard my story and got themselves checked. I knew what he was saying was not true, but people believed him because he is a doctor. It is nonsense. I just read an article today saying that a third of the world’s population has low Vitamin D so that indicates that it really IS a problem in every state, every country. We are not a small percentage of people with deficient levels. It is becoming a more common problem because our lifestyle of spending so much more time indoors combined with the constant message that we should protect ourselves from sun exposure. If that message doesn’t change, and the majority of the population avoids any and all UV, we are going to find ourselves with many other, more dangerous health issues in the future.
I see the attitude towards tanning as if there is no such thing as moderation, like everyone that goes to a salon looks like the “tanning mom”. She is not the face of tanning. It is frustrating to read the comments about how all people who tan look orange, old, leathery, etc. People tend to believe a person who tans is simply vain and that they are only looking for a bronzed body. That is a stereotype and part of the reason I wanted to speak out about my experience with tanning. I am more of a typical tanner. No one would guess I tan, even I wouldn’t be able to tell I am tan if I didn’t have tan lines because I am so fair. My tan is subtle and most of the people I see come and go from the salon I use look more like me. Not over tan, just normal skin tones. I am told constantly that I don’t look old enough to have children in their twenties, I know people who have tanned for years that don’t look old or leathery. But when I point that out in my story or in comments, I get replies about how stupid I am and that I am promoting skin cancer. I really don’t think people even read my comments all the way through, most of the time they just jump on me about their own opinions and they attack me for having a positive story to tell. I get, “You could get that result by taking a pill, and supplements would have worked just as well.” They don’t see that my point is that taking a pill is an option, but UV exposure works more efficiently and effectively. It is the more natural way to get Vitamin D. I think people should know that.
Another common argument I see against professional salons is that “we must protect the children.” I see this a lot because there are so many states considering banning anyone under 18 from tanning in a professional salon. Some states have passed such a law but there is no common sense to these laws. They are sending the message that sunbeds in salons are the biggest risk, using that WHO study as the evidence of the high risk, but ignoring how the data shows that salons are actually the lowest risk. Common sense would dictate that the logical thing to do to prevent skin cancer would be to educate kids on moderate UV exposure. Professional salons are the only place where you can get UV in a controlled environment. Science shows that overexposure to UV is risky. Professional salons limit access based on skin type to prevent overexposure. Personally speaking, the worst burn I ever had was because I was in the sun too long at a water park. No one came up to me and said, you have been out here too long for a fair skin type 2 if you don’t get out of the sun you will burn badly. Professional salons won’t let a person tan too long, they won’t risk a client getting sunburn, they dictate how long and how often a person tans based on their skin type and the science and research that went into skin typing works. Realistically, the water parks, pools, parks, amusement parks, beaches, et al are where overexposure is most common. So if we really want to “protect the children” by banning them from places where they can be risking skin cancer, we should ban them from these public places right? That suggestion would be ridiculous wouldn’t it? But suggesting we ban access to a place that rarely causes sunburn is somehow logical and there are many people who believe this will resolve skin cancer risks in teens. Where is the common sense? It is completely backwards thinking.
I have seen two articles just this week with personal stories blaming sunbeds in salons for melanoma. The articles talk about how one person owned their own sunbed so they tanned without restriction. One was a doctor that blamed sunbeds for his melanoma but mentioned that his mother also had melanoma and there was a history of skin cancer in his family. Neither of these articles focused on that part of the story, they focused on how these two people tanned in salons and ended up with melanoma. They placed the blame completely on salons without suggesting that there were other factors that contributed to the disease. They focused on how teens should be banned from salons to prevent more stories like these. But again, that doesn’t make sense. Why would a person who had a family history of a skin cancer point the finger of blame on tanning salons when it is possible they could have gotten the disease even if they had never tanned? I have mentioned in previous posts, my mom had skin cancer and she has never set foot in a tanning salon. Who shall we blame for her basil cell carcinoma? She is fair skinned and she has had some bad sunburns in her lifetime, so should we blame MY tanning for her skin cancer? That seems like the type of angle some of these articles would eat up. We can forget that she was diagnosed years before I even set foot in a tanning salon and that she isn’t my biological mother. There doesn’t need to be common sense or logic if we can somehow make a connection to skin cancer and tanning salons.
So why is it so hard for these personal stories to acknowledge that there may have been another cause to their skin cancer? Why can’t the message be that overexposure is dangerous and linked to skin cancer? Why can’t there be acknowledgement that professional salons take steps to avoid overexposure and there is a much lower risk when you use them? That is the proper message, the right approach, and it happens to be the message that the tanning industry tries to promote. What we need is to get people to think about how much UV they are getting. We need them to be better about paying attention to their skin and when they should use sunscreen. People should understand that moderate, responsible UV is beneficial. Why does the message of avoiding any and all UV get repeated over and over again when it is clearly unbalanced and dangerous? We need to have a healthy balanced approach and attitude about UV. The medical industry and media is going about this the wrong way by not giving both sides of the story and showing that moderation is the best answer when it comes to UV.