We Are Sunshine

Magazine’s Coverage of Georgetown Study “Embarrassing”

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Cosmopolitan Magazine’s coverage of a new melanoma study, spun in a blatant attempt to sell more sunscreen, has been called “embarrassing journalism” by the International Smart Tan Network.

2008-04-24-cosom-logic-copy.jpg“Your legs are the number one spot where melanoma strikes. But a new study found that women are also much more likely to develop melanoma on the chest, stomach and back than they were a generation ago,” Cosmo reported in a special section sponsored by Clinique and the American Academy of Dermatology. The magazine quoted Georgetown University Dermatologist Sandra Read as saying, “Because of low-rise jeans and halter tops, a woman’s middle racks up exposure to the sun like never before.”

The magazine’s conclusion: slather SPF 15 on your mid-section. Clinique SPF advertising surrounds the story.

Cosmo did not disclose the obvious confounders to the study. “It’s fear-based marketing for sunscreen products, and they will stop at nothing to peddle more sunscreen products. It’s embarrassing journalism,” said Joseph Levy, vice president of International Smart Tan Network.

Smart Tan supports the correct usage of sunscreen: as a product used to prevent sunburn on occasions when sunburn is a possibility. That approach has been demonstrated to be more successful at sunburn prevention than teaching daily over-use of the product.

Cosmo’s report on Read’s halter top study conspicuously ignores confounding variables:

  • Halter tops and low-rise jeans were popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “To suggest that women didn’t expose their stomachs before is ignoring history,” Levy said.
  • There are nearly two times as many dermatologists per capita today than there were in 1970s. “The default explanation is not that there are more melanomas on women’s stomachs today, but rather that there are more doctors doing more rigorous detection today than in years past,” Levy said. “That would explain finding lesions in areas of the skin that doctors didn’t used to check. It’s the most obvious explanation, especially when you consider that mortality rates for melanoma are not increasing — they are declining in women under 50 in both the United States and Canada.”

Those and other variables make it impossible to draw definite conclusions from the halter top study. “In some academic circles the failure to disclose confounding variables in reporting your work is considered fraud,” Levy said. “In Cosmo’s case it is just more bought-and-paid-for editorial coverage.”

Cosmo receives an estimated $1 million an issue from advertisers who promote the daily usage of sunscreen products, even in climates when sunburn isn’t a possibility.