The tanning bed debate: game, set and match
You can tell when an industry or company has its back to the wall because it starts spinning the bad news so fast that Ginger Rogers would get dizzy. Late in July the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced in the new issue of the Lancet Oncology that the evidence was unequivocal: tanning bed use increases the odds of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. In fact, the organization, which until now has avoided stating flatly that tanning beds and sun lamps cause cancer, moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans,” a designation shared by such substances as tobacco and mustard gas. It reported that an analysis of clinical research shows that teens and young adults under age 30 who regularly use tanning beds increase their melanoma risk by a staggering 75 percent.
News doesn’t get more damning than that, and it only reinforces the point we have made so often in our book, on this blog and in our other writings: avoiding excessive sun exposure is one of the most important steps you can take to improve not only the health of your skin but your overall health. The trouble is, the tanning salon industry isn’t, as you would expect, turning cartwheels over this news. For years, the industry has caught a great deal of flack for opening up new salons directly across from high schools in an obvious attempt to woo young girls looking to get bronzed before prom. So it’s not surprising that the official response of the industry was this, from an MSNBC story:
“The fact that the IARC has put tanning bed use in the same category as sunlight is hardly newsworthy,” said Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA). “The UV light from a tanning bed is equivalent to UV light from the sun, which has had a group 1 classification since 1992. Some other items in this category are red wine, beer and salted fish. The ITA has always emphasized the importance of moderation when it comes to UV light from either the sun or a tanning bed.”
That is more than a little disingenuous. The IARC Group 1 classification includes ethanol as a carcinogen, a type of alcohol that is indeed found in alcoholic beverages like red wine and beer. But drinking a glass of red wine is hardly the same as drinking pure ethanol, and it’s probably safe to say that the proven health benefits of red wine also counterbalance the cancer risks. This comes across as desperate spin from an industry that’s heard its death knell…maybe.
That brings up the real point: will this announcement change behavior. There are some positive signs already: MSNBC also reports that tanning salons around the country have seen a spike in cancellations after this cancer information was made public. But how long will that last? If history is any indication, teens who believe they are immortal will revert back to old habits unless this new information is followed with continuing education. So if you’re the parent of a young woman (or man, since guys tan, too), take it upon yourself to learn more about this announcement, the dangers of tanning beds, and melanoma in general, and talk to your kids. You can learn more here:
Debi & Eva