March 27, 2008 -- The country's tanning salons are taking on the medical establishment with a bold campaign to convince Americans that exposure to ultraviolet radiation is actually good for you.
"Go get a tan. Your body will thank you," the Indoor Tanning Association proclaims in a TV ad that will appear nationally.
The association launched its marketing drive today with a full page ad in The New York Times to counter medical research that blames ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning salons for causing melanoma.
"The dermatologists, the sunscreen and cosmetic industries have tried to say that somehow moderate tanning causes melanoma, which is just not true," Sarah Longwell of the Indoor Tanning Association told "Good Morning America" today.
Longwell says the studies warning against prolonged tanning in the sun or use of indoor tanning beds relied on "junk science."
To back its claims, the group cites a study by A. Bernard Ackerman -- who once received the "Master Dermatologist Award" from the American Association of Dermatology -- questioning whether exposure to ultraviolet rays from tanning really can cause melanoma.
"While our campaign will be controversial, it's time people learned the truth about sun exposure," Longwell said. "Not only is moderate tanning completely safe, more and more it's becoming just what the doctor ordered."
The ads say tanning actually is helpful because the body needs to get vitamin D from the sun.
But one doctor said people can get their daily vitamin D requirement from food and a few minutes of sun a week.
Yale Medical School's David Leffell said the ads are misleading.
"The ad misrepresents scientific fact," he said. "Ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from the artificial bulbs that are used in the tanning parlors can lead to skin cancer."
For one cancer survivor, the advertisements were disturbing.
"I don't think they're being honest at all," said Emily Konesky, who fought off advanced stage melanoma two years ago. She said her doctor attributed her illness to her tanning salon habit.
"It is not natural for a 19-year-old to be diagnosed with cancer that takes 30 to 40 years to develop," said Konesky, who used to go to indoor tanning salons as much as four times a week. "I wake up every single morning and think this could be the day that the cancer could come back."
Konesky believes she is living proof ultraviolet rays can do damage because she has the physical scars to prove it.