A new association representing owners of suntanning salons says it wants to dispel myths and misinformation about moderate exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, much of which it says is perpetuated by healthcare providers.
The American Suntanning Association (ASA), which announced its formation on Dec. 18, has 1,400 members representing owners of 14,000 sunbed salons in the U.S. The membership's primary concern centers on what the group says is flawed research that has misled the public about the benefits of moderate UV exposure.
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Widely cited studies have included home-based tanning beds and cosmetic and medical use of UV treatment, "which often involves intentional sunburn -- sometimes even blistering sunburn," according to a statement from the ASA. After removing those patients from analyses, "the risk connected to professional salons virtually disappears."
"One of the primary roles of the ASA is to address and factually dispel these myths and educate the public about intelligent, practical sun care for tanners and nontanners," ASA board member Diane Lucas, president of a national tanning salon chain based in Dallas, said in the statement.
As it corrects misinformation about sunlight and sunbeds, the ASA intends to raise standards for tanning salons.
"It is time to have a higher-level discussion about UV light from the sun and from sunbeds," said ASA board president Bart Bonn, owner of an Omaha, Neb.-based group of tanning salons. "The ASA is going to be a constructive party in that discussion, demanding a consumer-first conversation differentiating proper sun care from blatant overstatements about the risks of UV exposure."
If the ASA is serious about meaningful discussions with the medical and scientific communities, its leaders should take care in what they say and how they say it, according to Cleveland dermatologist Kevin Cooper, MD.
"The organization alleges in its materials that dermatologists are intentionally giving patients sunburns, and that is simply untrue," said Cooper, of Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals. "If they are looking for constructive dialogue, that's not particularly helpful."
In particular, the ASA has taken aim at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) position statement on indoor tanning. Originally approved by the AAD in 1998, the statement has been updated several times, most recently in 2012. According to the statement, the AAD "opposes indoor tanning and supports prohibiting the sale and use of commercial indoor tanning equipment."
Noting that both the National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization (WHO) have classified artificial UV light as a carcinogen, the AAD calls for "implementation of federal, state, and local legislation regulating tanning salons."
The AAD also "urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action that will prohibit the sale and use of commercial tanning equipment, and at a minimum reclassify tanning devices to more appropriately designate the health hazards associated with their use."
Group Disputes Tanning Dangers
In the absence of FDA action, the AAD has recommended:
A ban on use of indoor tanning by anyone younger than 18
A Surgeon General's warning label for all tanning equipment
Required signage warning of the known hazards of UV exposure
A warning statement every patron of a tanning facility must sign
Additional inspections and training for tanning salons and employees
A ban on advertising and promotion of health benefits of tanning
The ASA suggests that many physicians -- especially dermatologists -- refer patients to suntanning salons for therapeutic reasons. The ASA statement cites a 2010 survey by the International Smart Tan Network, a trade organization, showing that 11 percent of tanning-salon patients are referred by physicians and that 28 percent of referring physicians are dermatologists.
The statement characterized as "baseless" a claim by the AAD that 100 percent of dermatologists discourage tanning.
The ASA also wants more discussion of a 2009 report from the International Association for Research in Cancer (IARC), a branch of the WHO, which reclassified artificial UV light from "possibly carcinogenic" to "carcinogenic to humans." The IARC decision was based in part on a 2006 meta-analysis that showed a 75 percent increased risk of melanoma among people who reported using tanning devices before age 30.
"The IARC data that resulted in a mispromoted number, in our view, included both phototherapy units and home units," ASA board member Doug McNabb told MedPage Today. "When you separate the data into three categories -- commercial sunbeds, home units, and phototherapy units -- commercial sunbeds have the lowest risk and would be statistically insignificant. In contrast, the risk of melanoma is increased by 96 percent with phototherapy units."
"We want to shed some light on that data and make sure people are making decisions on the basis of scientific facts and not on the basis of a newspaper headline or a TV news show," added McNabb, a suntanning salon owner in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
McNabb reiterated the ASA's intended emphasis on better education and training of suntanning salon employees, as well as people who use commercial sunbeds.