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Responsible Marketing

Tanning is good 4 U?

By April 7, 2008October 27th, 202117 Comments

Did you know there’s a “deceptive campaign to keep you out of the sun?”

The Indoor Tanning Association recently placed an ad in the New York Times. With the headline “Tanning Causes Melanoma HYPE” it has caused some controversy and pushed some traffic to, the organization’s campaign website.

Their key points:

  • Society needs more Vitamin D, and 20 minutes in the sun will give you more than you can get with through milk or any food product
  • Exposure to the sun (or tanning beds) does not cause cancer
  • All these myths are nothing more than hype generated by dermatologists (especially the members of the American Academy of Dermatology “AAD”) that are in the back pocket of the sunscreen companies.Here’s their ad:

    As you would expect, The AAD couldn’t disagree more.

    According to an their factsheet, a few of the risks of tanning include:

  • The United States Department of Health & Human Services has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).
  • Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, including beds, lamps, bulbs, booths, etc., emits UVA and UVB radiation. The amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun and in some cases may be stronger.
  • A Swedish study presents strong evidence that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, especially when exposed at an early age.
  • Evidence from several studies has shown that exposure to 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.
  • A review of seven studies found a statistically significant increase in the risk of melanoma in those who had been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning before the age of 35.
  • Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Also excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma.
  • Because UV radiation from indoor tanning can lead to skin cancer, eye damage, aging skin and immune suppression, it is not safe to use tanning lamps to obtain vitamin D.
  • The AAD has a campaign of their own:

    I know. OMG, the whole IM motif is pretty lame. But considering 2.3 million teen girls frequent tanning salons annually, I understand the approach.

    If the Indoor Tanning Association is right, it’s one of the great healthscare scams in recent memory. If they are wrong, could they be any less responsible?

    So, who do you believe? The Indoor Tanning Association or the American Academy of Dermatology?


    Feel free to weigh in below.

    . . .
    Inspiration for this post came from Conrad Saam at Avvo. Thanks, Conrad!

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • What I find really disingenuous about the trade assn. ad is they say sunlight has these benefits (which it does), but then they say, go use a tanning bad–where’s the Vitamin D in that?

    And the idea of a conspiracy with sunscreen manufacturers is just ludicrous.

    My sister married a dermatologist, and her whole family is always well-armored when they go out. Me, I try to get out in the sun, but I live in New England. If I’m in a tropical clime or going to be out for many hours, I generally wear at least a hat and maybe a little sunscreen.

    Tanning beds? I always assumed they’d have bad health consequences, and have never tried one–nor will I.

    Shel Horowitz, founder
    Business Ethics Pledge
    Blogging on the intersections of ethics, marketing, politics, media, and sustainability

  • Shel,

    I lobster up pretty good with my complexion, but I know a few folks that fake-bake (I do live in the Seattle area, after all).

    I thought the Indoor Tanning Association’s marketing was fairly persuasive, though I did see a breakdown in their logic here and there. Judged by the number of people taking their side, I’d say they are doing a good job of getting people to consider their side.

    Happy Marketing.


  • Tara Anderson says:

    Many fail to see the beyond the melanoma factor as well. I stay out of the sun as much as possible, being one of the pale folk that happen to burn upon the mere thought of the sun. But I know a handful of people who fake-bake as well. What have they gotten out of it?

    Bacterial infection.

    Tanning beds may not be as clean as you think, and despite bringing your own sheet(s) or wiping the bed down beforehand, you are still putting yourself at risk of gathering someone else’s germs.

    Personally, I’d rather accept my paleness, and stay away from places where my shoes have less pigment than the skin of the surrounding people 🙂

  • mr belvedere says:

    “Conspiracy” might be the wrong word to describe what I call “The Establishment”, has been doing for the past 5-10 years in regards to its message to the consuming public. What they do, is tell the American people that the sun, and even worse, TANNING BEDS, cause skin cancer and make you look old. They know good and well that Americans can’t, and WON’T avoid the sun. So, they convince the consumer of the “inherent dangers”, and then provide them with a solution to their dilemma: sunscreen, anti-aging/wrinkle removal creams. What they don’t do is point to a single, credible study that proves conclusively that UV exposure causes skin cancer (that’s because there isn’t one); advertise that professional grade tanning equipment is used in many medical facilities, and in some cases, patients get a prescription to visit professional tanning salons for various conditions; and they don’t tell you just how well their decadelong campaign has worked, as evidenced by the epic lack of Vitamin D in North America (including Canada) residents and its consequences.

    I’ll concede the possibility that there may be a link between “overexposure” and skin cancer and other conditions. But when you look at the data, I’m sure you’ll find the majority of reported cases of the various skin cancer types is in the age group that that grew up and were under the age of 30 between the latter half of the 50’s, and through the latter half of the 70’s. The culture of that era in the U.S. enjoyed tremendous prosperity, and also increase in outdoor leisure activities. It was also a time when there was no great “sun scare”, no effective sun screen products available, and many occurrences of UV overexposure over the years. The Establishment points to this data only to make their case without publicizing the peripheral factors responsible for it. They also fail to report the data that suggests that skin cancer and other skin conditions is just as likely to be genetic, and/or caused/triggered by environmental pollutants, topical chemicals in various products, and ingested chemicals that have become prevalent in our society over the last 30 years. As for “skin aging” and wrinkles, well, that’s what happens as you get older whether you get any sun or not. Skin aging is more the result of diet and lifestyle than sun exposure. And they certainly aren’t going to tell you that your skin, eyes, and internal organs, not to mention your psyche and general well-being depends on the sun and UV exposure on a regular basis. A good, caring doctor might tell you this; and many have, but you hear very few if any say it anywhere other than in the quiet confines of the examination room. Why? Because they can’t afford to go against The Establishment.

    So, we can’t and won’t avoid the sun – what to do? Well, the body has a solution for this. It’s called melanin. Now, different skin types develop different levels of melanin at varying rates. This is the human body’s natural defense against sustained UV radiation. But based on the skin-type, sometimes a person gets more UV radiation faster than their skin can react and produce melanin; which consequently results in a sunburn. Repeated skin damage of this magnitude over several years is probably bad, which I believe explains the number of cases seen today in the 50 to 80 somethings that came up during the 50’s through the 70’s. At any rate, the key is moderate exposure, which is different for every individual to some degree, which brings us to indoor tanning salons.

    The sun is always there, but we can’t always get it, or get enough of it (the northern hemisphere, like Seattle and New England for example). Sometimes there can be way more than the person can handle (the southern sunbelt and the west coast). Some days are cloudy and cold, and some days there is so much pollution that the UV rays are scattered. The point is there are too many external factors affecting outdoor tanning for any individual to know for sure how much they are getting, or how fast they are getting it with any certainty. The inddor tanning industry has perfected this down to a science with individual skin-typing methods, and specific UV outputs of lamps and equipment – there is no guessing involved. And with the professional indoor salon, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like or what time of day it is (for those folks that might work indoors all day). And the real beauty of it is that the UV exposure you get from a tanning bed is no different than the UV you get from the sun (UV exposure on the skin is the required “enegizer” for triggering Vitamin D synthesis in the body), except that the proffesional salon is a controlled environment.

    The ad campaign started by the ITA is not a “marketing” campaign in the traditional sense. Yes, it is true that the industry is dying thanks to The Establishment’s efforts to terrify the consuming public into buying products and seeking services; and avoiding tanning salons. They have unnecessarily villified the indoor tanning industry and the thousands of people that work in and rely on it for their livelihood. Bringing the truth about tanning and the sun into the public eye is the purpose of the ITA’s campaign. The Establishment’s tactics over the last 10 years has done more harm than good when it comes to the overall health of the general public, and all in the name of profit and power. The indoor tanning salon owner of today is a small-business person with a family and bills, and The Establishment has been making it nearly impossible for many of them to stay in business. The ITA campaign simply seeks to change that by informing and educating the consuming public about the truth of the sun and tanning, and that the indoor tanning industry is not a villainous, “profit at any cost” group of professionals.

    I thank you for reading this, and hopefully, considering what I have said here with an objective mind.

    -mr belvedere

  • mr belvedere says:

    In regards to bacteria from tanning beds – if the equipment being used has lamps on the bottom (not the mattress type where the tanner flips over), then the tanner has little to worry about. Most bacteria cannot survive in well-lit, dry/arid, UV flooded environments (like in a tanning bed). Besides, professional indoor tanning salons are regulated by the FDA and are required to use only approved cleaning products proven to destroy the majority of strains of bacteria known to man, in sloutions that are clinically tested to be effective while at the same time safe for human contact.

    I can honestly tell you that I have NEVER during my 10+ years in the indoor tanning industry ever had, nor heard of a tanner contracting a bacterial infection – topical or otherwise – from a tanning bed.

    Thanks for reading.

    mr belvedere

  • Received an email from the Scott Carl at the American Academy of Dermatology.

    Here’s a link to a statement given by the Academy’s president with regards to this issue:

  • As the daughter-in-law of an oncologist, I have to admit, I couldn’t even finish reading this post.

    I just look at people I know who have tanned for any legnth of time and I can say it is bad for you.

  • mr belvedere says:

    Excerpts from the above-linked statement posted by Mr. Byers:

    “For decades, the American Academy of Dermatology has advised the public to practice proper sun protection to prevent skin cancer … ”
    – The ITA campaign doesn’t contradict this. Professional indoor tanning salons support this statement, indoors and out.

    ““While the health benefits of vitamin D are well known, it also is well known that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause skin cancer,” stated dermatologist C. William Hanke, MD, FAAD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology.”
    – It is? I’ve gotten a lot of UV exposure during my 38 years of life, and I don’t have skin cancer. I know/knew plenty of people that got tons more sun and UV than I have, and they didn’t/don’t have skin cancer either. My oldest step-daughter developed skin cancer when she was 19, under her left breast (I don’t know how much UV exposure she got there). Skin cancer runs in her father’s family – of English-Irish descent.

    “Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. It also is estimated that 116,500 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) this year. In addition, 8,420 people are expected to die from melanoma this year.”
    – If UV exposure in general actually causes skin cancer, why aren’t these estimates much higher? Certainly a greater portion of the U.S. poulation will get UV exposure than what these “estimates” predict, right? If the sun causes skin cancer, does this mean that the 4 people who don’t end up getting it work indoors, only come out at night, or clothe themselves from head to toe when they go out? I think not.

    ““There is substantial evidence that excessive exposure to any form of UV radiation increases the risk of developing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer…”
    – Cite the study(s). “All things in moderation” goes the saying. You can die from drinking too much water in too short a time. You can touch a red hot burner and get a little blister that will heal; leave your hand on it for 5 minutes or so and serious damage will be done. Two cigarettes or cigar a day and your lungs will be fine; go outside every day in the countries smoggiest cities and breathe the air and you’ll develop respiratory problems. I can go on forever with this; the point is that our bodies are not only equipped to deal with UV exposure, but rely on it.

    “The amount of vitamin D an individual needs is an active area of research.”
    – Of course it is an active area of research. Vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. and Canada wasn’t a problem until The Establishment’s campaign of fear took root in the populace and EVERYBODY, not just those prone to skin cancer, began avoiding UV exposure over the last 10-20 years.

    I know that there are people like the lady above who will not even bother to listen to or research opposing points on this issue, and that’s ok. But it is unethical for The Establishment to continue to harm the general public with their onesided, false and misleading statements like the ones I have cited here. That is the goal of the ITA’s campaign, to bring the truth to light.

  • MGJ says:

    The sun is the basis of life on this planet, with out we and every thing else is dead. By the derms logic, shouldn’t every humanoid who lives in the tropics or around the equaitor be stricken dead with cancer? Yet life goes on, with out in most cases any sunscreen. What about the farmers and construction workers in the US who are outside 365 days a year with out sunscreen, shouldnt they also be dead??

    Tanning is not for every one, good salons work very hard to stop overexposure, and that is where damage occurs. A certain percentage of the population is going to develop some form of cancer. We as salon owners are promoting safe regulated exposure. I just started tanning when I built my salon, prior to that I was the proto type pasty white guy, I wore spf50 and big hats, I now can go out fishing or swiming and not burn. It took me months to develop a tan, but now I tan 1-2 times per week, and LOVE IT.

  • katyasag says:

    I am not happy with this Indoor Tanning Association. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that tanning in a tanning bed is simply not good for you, now matter much viatmin D it may offer. And the fact that the ITA is out there citing research that tanning is good for you is outrageous. This may come to sock to some people, but RESEARCHERS do get paid from time to time to report incorrect research. And if anyone knows anything about Statistics, then they would know you can skew any kind of data to make it show whatever you want it to. (this is an actual science)…

    The other side of this, the side that is saying the cosmetic industry and sunscreen industry is conspiring against us to sell more products, there could be some truth to that. But if it weren’t for the Sun, it would be something else.

    Why is that we have to be so misinformed by the establishment? And why is it that people take research at face value and belive whatever they want.

    I don’t care what you say, there is tons of reputable research that notes indoor tanning is bad for you. Are they paid off who knows.

    All I know is that I have tanned, I like to be tan, but I know indoor tanning is very harmful. When I used to use the tanning bed frequently, my skin became very dry and nasty, and I noticed more wrinkles, I also did not smell vey attractive. I hve friends who have tanned for years, two of them have skin cancer now (and they avoided natural sun). They look very old- beyond their years, winklely, and just plain nasty…

    Since the advent of tanning beds, skin cancer rates have ncreased dramatically since the says when tanning beds were not present… Plus it is just so fake and unnatural. Most things that are fake and unnatural usually are not that helpful…

    So who are we to belive?
    I am going believe myself. Which says, hey this indoor tanning thing is not natural….. and is probably not good for you.

  • Tina says:

    Ok I just started Tanning indoors, All these years we have been told that tanning beds are very bad for you, and it causes cancer and all this kind of stuff, it don’t matter now days whether you eat it , drink it , or tan in it your going to get cancer from it! or so they say! just saying the word cancer is enough to scare or worry anyone , no matter what your doing! I think it’s sad when some one else can tell you your gonna get this or that when they are not a Dr. Ok so it may not be healthy for you to tan in doors, I am on the fence with this , do to the fact no one has given 100% proof that it does or does not cause cancer ! We have only herad statements about it. I don’t know when , where or how I am going to die, But I know I will live eevryday like it’s my last day, tanning or not ! life is to short as we know it to be scared of things we enjoy doing! relax and enjoy life ! Hey you might live a longer better life, who knows?

  • bellydancegirl says:

    Hey Tina, there’s actually a lot of evidence for that. (The non-worrying mentality.)

    I spent years avoiding the sun and felt like crap. I’ve just started laying out in the sun (moderately. I’m on the fence about tanning beds, and the sun is free and natural) in the past 5 weeks.

    I’ve noticed a big improvement in just the way I feel in general, especially my mood. I’m a lot calmer and relaxed. That benefit alone is worth laying out in the sun IMO.

    The link between melanoma and the sun is very shaky at best IMO (from all the reading I’ve been doing lately.) And that’s the dangerous one.

    Meanwhile they’re finding vitamin D is protective for many far more serious cancers than the two types of skin cancer which MAY be due to overexposure from the sun.

    As for the aging thing…so what? We’re all going to age. And I’d rather have some wrinkles and feel good than have completely smooth skin and be pale.

    Besides, exercise, diet and genetics may play a larger role in skin aging than the sun does, as long as you aren’t getting burnt. Definitely getting lots of antioxidants its good for you. It works as a natural internal sunscreen for your skin, without blocking the UV rays needed to make Vitamin D.

  • Jennifer says:

    As a newly diagnosed melanoma patient who spent her teens & 20’s baking in both the outdoor sun and tanning beds, I’ll say I agree with the medical professionals who’s job is to save lives. I’m a 35 yr old Mom to a small child and I have to admit that I’m pretty angry with myself for ignoring all the things they KNOW about tanning of any kind. I feel very certain that we caught the cancer before it had a chance to invade the rest of my body, but I’ve spent the last several days facing the reality that my son could have very easily lost his mother, because she was obsessed with the perfect tan when she was younger. They are seeing melanoma sky rocket in young women in recent years. There is a direct correlation to using tanning beds in one’s teens & 20’s (that would be me) and melanoma and one of the fastest growing populations frequenting tanning salons is teenagers. Our young people are a generation that is all about instant gratification and not much thought of the future. Young people will believe almost anything, especially if it supports something that they want to do, like tanning. Young people feel nothing bad will ever happen to them.

    I’ll be going next week to visit with a melanoma surgeon who will most likely be removing more tissue that was surrounding the melanoma. At the very least, I am lucky that it was on my arm. I could be going to have a hunk of my face removed. If I’m really luck, as I pray I am, I’ll be told that the cancer was local and superficial and did not spread internally.

    As far as vitamin D goes, we EASILY and safely get it from fortified foods and supplementation. It IS a very important nutrient, but to say that benefit of tanning outweighs the risks is just ignorant. Over exposure also causes vitamin D to breakdown and damages your immune system, so any benefit would be canceled out.

    I know there are people here and everywhere who will continue to disagree and that’s fine. Just be sure to learn the FACTS and make a fully informed decision regarding the risks, not just listen to the people who are waiting to take your money for your monthly tanning package. Another myth is that the UVA rays don’t damage your skin, because they don’t burn. They penetrate the skin deeper than the burning UVB ray, so just because you’re not red on the outside, doesn’t mean the damage isn’t being done.

  • The polling results so far shock me. I can’t believe more people believe an associated whose job it is to sell product than Doctors. Well, that’s not the point I want to make.

    Last week I read an article that asked what vitamins do doctors take. Everyone interviewed consumed Vitamin D. That’s a strong message. It is important to note that it must be Vitamin D3.

  • jenny says:

    I think that these anti-sun tactics are so crazy, I am a salon owner and have several clients that are referred by doctors to my salon for tanning. My husband and I both have medical backgrounds he in dermatology and i in occupational medicine, and i find it crazy that the medical field gives a RX for light therapy which is just therapy in a tanning bed, and then touts how bad it is for you, in other words as long as the medical industry is making the money it is ok….and as far as these angry people that as they say baked in a tanning bed or the sun well baked would be the key word, because they chose to be irresponsible does not make the sun or a tanning bed bad for you as long as it is done smart and in moderation meaning not baking or burning, but tanning in moderation.

  • douglas ewing says:

    The medical system is broke and currupt and we need the sun and sun light and tanning beds. Why is the Melanoma rate so much higher in the northern part of the US and not towards the south? Sunlight and tanning prevent Cancer. research DR. TIMULLI SIMUNCINI who is an Italian Oncologist who found out that cancer can be cured by treating his patients with bakingsoda and that cancer is really a fungus and he has video of his treatments before after and during his treatments of cancer patients all of which were cured within four days of receiving IV bakingsoda. He reveled his findings and research and they stripped him of his liscence. Do you know how much money the FDA and big pharma companys will lose if this gets out that Cancer can be treated and cured with 88 cents worth of baking soda. The FDA makes 15 to 30 million dollars off of every new medicine that comes out and big pharma companys have to make back there money so they will fight to hide this research. This story should be on every news station and TV channell across America. Its sickening also The Graviola plant cures cancer and PERDUE hid the findings from the public for almost 8 years while they tried to synthesise the plant and make there own medicine from it because you cant get a patent fom a natural plant. Everybody needs to rise up and fight the system for all of this money hungry misleading and killing of our people. Deoderent under your arms causes cancer. the vaccines there giving for h1N1 and our babies causes cancer and autism and ADD , ADHD along with the pesticides and additives such as MSG and artificial sweetners like Aspartame and equal and sweet n low. Take that ISH off the shelves and tell the truth. And most of these doctors and medical profesionals think that they are right and they believe there own garbage reports that are paid off to benefit the system instead of reporting the truth. We need the sun and its vitamins to prevent cancer. this is a scare tactic and people out there that have cancer after years of laying in the sun and tanning , well think about it . Im sure for the same amount of years you have been using deoderent and eating additives and being exposed to pesticides and fabric softner sheets in your laundry so why are you blaming the sun and tanning instead of these products. Like I said tropical and southern states have less cancer comared to people that avoid the sun so do your homework and dont just listen to the news and reports and believe the hype. Always ask why to everything . Ask what could these results of these reports do to defraud the consumer and who will benifit from the results and always go the opposit way of the big money. In light and love , DOUGLAS EWING

  • Jrgent says:

    Haven’t we seen the same government scare tactics before? aka global warming. Government again picking winners and losers based on dubious data-and with any government scare tactic there is always a special interest group that benefits aka the dermatology industry and it’s product suppliers: and losers- 20,000 small businesses employing 100,000 people in the US. Oh well, closing businesses and losing jobs is nothing new to our government- just look at the energy, banking industries.

    Of course the HHS and the Dermatology industry fail to mention in their propoganda ad that the medical profession has PRESCRIBED UV light for 40 years for skin disorders, depression AND
    use UV light to rejuevenate the skin. In fact the first UV devices were invented for doctors- not
    for the tanning industry. They also fail to mention that the Dermatology and the AMA were
    supporters of our new healthcare law-in exchange for a 10% excise tax on Tanning salons- a tax
    that is not on the dermatology industry’s use of the same UV light equipment-of course.

    Getting the picture? The American people are smart enough to see through this.  

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