"Go get a tan. Your body will thank you… indoor tanning beds are a great way to get a healthy dose of vitamin D (and a tan, while you’re at it).”
So says the Indoor Tanning Association.
Defying established medical knowledge and common sense, the Indoor Tanning Association is claiming that UVA ultraviolet rays do not cause melanoma.
This kind of outrageous claim by a pro-tanning organization would usually be easy to ignore – but unfortunately they are getting quite a bit of attention. Today they published this full page ad (.pdf file) in the New York Times, where they brazenly claim ‘…there is no compelling scientific evidence that tanning causes melanoma’ and imply that campaigns to promote skin cancer prevention through avoidance of tanning are all ‘hype’.
According to ABC News, this morning Sarah Longwell (a spokesperson for the organization) told Good Morning America that “there is nothing dangerous about getting a tan.”
Unfortunately all of this is rubbish.
Now, it is true that sunlight is important to help your body to produce vitamin D. However, since the advent of vitamin D fortification of foods, the typical American diet contains plenty of vitamin D already, and rickets (vitamin D deficiency) has become rare in this country.
The ultraviolet rays in sunlight, however, are thought to be a major cause of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. This article provides a nice overview of the topic, including describing the ability of UVA to directly damage DNA.
Since summer is coming, I’d suggest that if you’d like the tanned look without the risk, there are sunless tanning alternatives you can look into. No matter your skin type, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends daily use of a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. Further information about skin cancer, including the ABCDs of melanoma, can be found here.
Or as Dr Benabio puts it: “Your natural skin color, even if ‘pasty’ is beautiful.”
In sum, the International Tanning Association's ad campaign is irresponsible and dangerous. I'm not sure I can say it enough. Please don’t allow your desire for a tan to put you at risk for a preventable cancer.
Some helpful resources:
SkinCancerNet’s article on skin cancer prevention
The ABCDs of melanoma detection
NCI’s free booklet on melanoma (.pdf)