We Are Sunshine

AAD’s 2008 Skin Cancer Campaign Disregards The Whole Truth

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The American Academy of Dermatology — supported financially by sun care companies who sell an estimated $35 billion in cosmetic products marketed with over-the-top anti-sun messaging — on Monday launched its latest attempt to mislead the teenage public into believing that UV light is nothing but harmful.

2008-05-06-twisting-the-facts-tanningnews-copy.jpgAAD’s 2008 anti-tanning public service ad campaign attempts to convince teenagers not to visit indoor tanning facilities.

“Once again the AAD has conspicuously ignored men over age 50 — the group most likely to contract melanoma — on its self proclaimed “Melanoma Monday,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “Melanoma mortality has been decreasing in young women, but is increasing in older men. Their emphasis is misplaced.”

Smart Tan believes teenagers should be taught sunburn prevention, not sun abstinence, as appropriate behavior.

Here are some claims made by AAD in the association’s May 5 press release, and why they are mistaken:

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AAD Says: “Research supports the need for public education on the health risks of indoor tanning. Studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can be addictive because of the production of endorphins which can initiate dependency.”

Why They’re Wrong: Humans are not addicted to UV light. They are attracted to UV light. Saying that sunlight can be addictive, and therefore must be dangerous, is like saying that food and water can be addictive, and therefore must be dangerous. We are naturally attracted to things we need: Food, water, air and sunlight. Twisting it otherwise is not being truthful.

The production of endorphins does not initiate dependency. Humans make endorphins when they run. (That’s often referred to as “runner’s high.”) Is AAD suggesting that running is dangerous?

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AAD Says: “Indoor tanning before the age of 35 has been associated with a significant increase in the risk of melanoma.”

Why They’re Wrong: Figures lie and liars figure. These studies do not — and were not capable of — isolating tanning in a non-burning fashion as a risk factor. That’s because the study design did not differentiate those who tanned in professional facilities in a non-burning fashion as compared to those who burned in home units or in countries who do not regulate exposure times. In fact, if fair-skinned tanners are removed from the study the associations are not statistically significant.

The default explanation from this and other studies should be that burning at an early age may be a risk factor. And we know that tanners are less likely to sunburn as compared with non-tanners. AAD has conspicuously confused “misuse” of tanning equipment with use.

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AAD Says: “Melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group.”

Why They’re Wrong: Melanoma mortality is decreasing in females in every age group under 50, according to National Cancer Institute data. The same holds true for Canadian melanoma data. In contrast, melanoma morality is increasing dramatically in men over age 50, yet none of the public service advertising is directed at this group — the group most at risk. This makes AAD’s efforts misleading at best.

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AAD Says: “In females 15-29, the torso is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors.”

Why They’re Wrong: There is no scientific reason for this statement, which amounts to nothing more than a guess. The torso is still less-exposed than the face, arms and neck — which supports the most predominate theory about melanoma: That cumulative exposure to UV light is not a risk factor, but intermittent burns are.

One More Reason They’re Wrong: These studies do not identify any causative mechanism for such an association. AAD is reporting speculation as fact.