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Told to Go Get a Tan?

By HERWriter
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Skin Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Delta Payet, now 40, was told by her doctor while in her 20’s to go get some sun for the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that she was experiencing during a long cold winter in Vermont. She went to a tanning salon about three times a week for about three months then intermittently for the next three years, as reported in a story in Self magazine’s June 2011 issue.

Later, at the age of 30, a dermatologist found and removed a precancerous mole on Payet's arm, leaving a 1-inch-by-1-inch scar. More moles followed and were removed and the dermatologist expressed that it was unusual for someone with no family history of skin cancer to develop so many moles--unless she had excessively tanned in her youth.

Twenty years ago, it would not be surprising for a doctor to tell a patient to go get some sun to feel better but today, we wouldn’t expect anyone to be told to get a tan for a non-medical reason.

The self.com article went on to state that according to a survey by the International Smart Tan Network of 6,881 people who went to tanning salons, 46 percent of indoor tanners say they’ve gone tanning for non-cosmetic reasons and 11 percent did so on the advice of their doctor. Those surveyed reported that their doctors suggested they seek tanning to treat conditions such as depression, vitamin D deficiency, skin disorders or fibromyalgia.

It is important to note that the International Smart Tan Network is not a particularly unbiased group. They are an organization that promotes indoor tanning and they assist their members with their indoor tanning businesses through information and sales support. Access to the survey is not available on their website so it isn’t not known how the survey questions were worded to determine how a patient was advised to go to a tanning salon.

Doctors do know that indoor tanning can cause skin cancer. It may be that doctors made casual suggestions to patients that they get some sun with or without following the statement with an extra precaution to wear sunscreen or to limit their exposure to only so many minutes a day.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to send patients to tanning salons for any medical reasons,” said Bruce Brod, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in the self.com article. “Indoor tanning doesn’t have health benefits. It causes skin cancer!”

Other tanning bed organizations such as the UV Foundation have also tried to promote indoor tanning in the name of fighting vitamin D deficiencies. They look for opportunities to fund research that justifies use of tanning beds as beneficial.

According to Brod, “Sending a patient to an indoor tanning salon for vitamin D is the definition of insanity.” Other dermatology experts stated that there is no need to tan, that vitamin D supplements “work just as well."

Indoor tanning is not necessary to fight the conditions that the survey respondents claimed they were told to get tanning to try to help. SAD treatments are well studied and patients need exposure to SAD lights, not tanning lights. For more on this, see my article: www.empowher.com/skin-hair-nails/content/do-sad-lights-cause-cancer. Vitamin D deficiencies can be treated with supplements or through limited sun exposure while wearing sunscreen. Fibromyalgia has been helped with gentle movement therapies such as Tai Chi. There are plenty of alternatives to indoor tanning which research has shown can triple or even quadruple the risk of developing melanoma if used regularly (webmd ).

Today, Payet is an aesthetician with her own skin care salon in Arizona. She is the one who gives others skin care guidance but she still wonders if following her doctor’s suggestion 20 years ago might have caused her to develop those precancerous moles.

A Prescription for Cancer

The International Smart Tan Network

Tanning Beds Triple Melanoma Risk


Edited by Alison Stanton

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s health care and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Add a Comment16 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Melanoma is more common in indoor workers. That would be impossible if it were directly related to sunlight.
The people telling you to avoid tanning are also telling you to put toxic chemical sunscreen on/in your body every day. Google "oxybenzone, toxin" and see what's invading your body!

June 3, 2011 - 4:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

If you overuse vitamin D supplements, you are at risk of vitamin D toxicity, which you cannot develelop by spending too much time in the sun or in a tanning bed. If you recieve regular MODERATE sun exposure, you have less of a chance of developing malignant melanoma. Again, melanoma is more common in indoor workers. That would be impossible if it were directly related to sunlight.

June 3, 2011 - 2:23pm
EmpowHER Guest

Dermatologists like Dr. Brod still use sunbeds to treat cosmetic skin conditions -- psoriasis, for instance. IDENTICAL equipment. They bill insurance companies up to $100 a session for these sunbed sessions, which according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology still involves intentionally inducing a sunburn. So a dermatologist can use a sunbed and burn people on purpose for $100 a pop to treat a cosmetic skin condition and dermatology defends that as "safe" but Dr. Brod insists that the same $5-a-session sunbed in a professional tanning salon - where the protocol is to deliver a non-burning dosage of UV based on calculated exposure schedules - is dangerous and has no benefits. Can dermatology even be taken seriously anymore?

June 3, 2011 - 1:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

This article states that Smart Tan is not an unbiased organization. Has it every occurred to others that perhaps doctors and other skin care companies are also not unbiased organizations. Just like plants need water and sun to survive humans do too. Yes, repeated over exposure to UV light (especially in Skin Type 1) MAY lead to Basil cell or Squamous cell skin cancer. My question is...Did this lady have skin cancer? Were the moles removed tested by an unbiased organization? Who defines precancerous? Was this person unbiased?

June 3, 2011 - 11:45am
EmpowHER Guest

Melanoma is more common in indoor workers. That would be impossible if it were directly related to sunlight.

June 3, 2011 - 11:30am
EmpowHER Guest

Really, this article just seems ridiculous to me. Every cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor that woul receive from UV exposure from the sun or a tanning bed. Are you meaning to tell me that God messed up when he created the human body this way? I don't think so!

June 3, 2011 - 11:02am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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