SAE responds to recent anti-tanning study

The study Use of Tanning Devices and Risk of Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers; Karagas, Stannard, Mott, Slattery, Spencer, and Weinstock, JNCI, Feb 2002 that was recently released to in the Journal of National Skin Cancer may provide an inaccurate picture of the indoor tanning to the public. Here's why.

An overwhelming 95% indicated that they were sun-sensitive, more likely to burn than tan, probably be categorized as Skin types I or II.  People that fall into the range of Skin type I are generally fair haired, blue eyed and of Celtic origin and are not likely to tan in the sun; generally they will suffer a reddening of the skin or sunburn.  Certain people are more predisposed to suffer from skin cancer.  If one is predisposed to obtaining skin cancer, UV radiation (indoors or out) should be avoided.  It possible and very likely that those in the study have had numerous outdoor exposures in their lives, besides indoor tanning.  Those that were select for this study were from New Hampshire, an area with that offers residents that wish to tan outdoors little sun exposure for much of the year and intense, intermittent exposures, tempting sunburn and potentially skin cancer, during the summer months. 

The study admitted that they could not evaluate what effects that the amounts of UVB or UVA emission had on the test subjects.  Different amounts of UV may yield different reactions. For example, the use of UVB-only style tanning (which would yield a high risk to sunburn or erythema) existed prior to the 1980's. Commercial tanning salons began in the US in 1979 and were not widely available until the mid 1980's.  Of those that indicated indoor tanning usage, over 60% started prior to 1975.  What was available in 1975, were units offering high amounts of UVB, no exposure schedules, no operator training, and prior to FDA regulations on indoor tanning.  Today, the majority of lamps available in the US and Canada contain a mix of minimal UVB with sufficient UVA to promote oxidization or photoprotective tanning. With a test group aged 25-74, the use of older equipment is not only possible, but also probable. 

There is also the failure to consider the potential of the co-carcinogenic aspects of smoking.  There are studies showing clearly that individuals who smoke have double the rate of SCC than do non-smokers.   The failure to control for whether or not the participants were smokers seriously limits the validity of this study. 

Millions of people tan indoors each year in North America.  While people that tan admit to "looking better and feeling great", these are anecdotal references to health claims, and not are recognized by the FDA in the US.  However, the indoor tanning industry looks forward to studies undertaken in the future that may support these health claims.  Indoor tanning offers a controlled method to obtain a photoprotective tan in a controlled environment.  The outside sun has no control and yields widely varying amounts of intensity, depending on the time of day, time of year, cloud cover, pollutants, altitude, and reflective surfaces.   Once one has made the decision to tan indoors, it should be done in moderation while avoiding overexposure.