We Are Sunshine

More Doctors Pro-Sun Today: Poll

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Dermatology lobbying groups doubling-down on their sun abstinence messaging might have something to do with the fact that more doctors in other disciplines are telling their patients to get back into the sun.

That’s what a poll in January showed. According to the poll, 65 percent of the tanning community says more community doctors are telling patients to get regular UV exposure to make vitamin D than were doing so five years ago.

“Dermatology, partnered with pharmaceutical sunscreen companies, has doubled-down on their sales-driven message as more and more people have figured out that their dogma — wear sunscreen daily — isn’t scientific and causes vitamin D deficiency,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “From oncologists to obstetricians to general practitioners, doctors outside of dermatology are promoting a more sensible approach to sun.”

The poll is supported by other surveys. A 2011 Smart Tan survey of 6,881 indoor tanning clients revealed that 11 percent of tanning clients say a doctor referred them to a tanning salon for therapeutic reasons and that 28 percent of those referring physicians were dermatologists. The survey showed that American Academy of Dermatology’s stated position that “100 percent of dermatologists discourage tanning” is baseless.

Based on the 2011 Smart Tan survey, dermatologists alone refer an estimated 900,000 people to sunbeds in the United States every year. According to Smart Tan, an estimated 1.5 million Americans utilize tanning salons to informally treat psoriasis in lieu of phototherapy in a dermatologist’s office. Phototherapy procedures use the same equipment found in tanning salons. In fact, the Mayo Clinic cites UV light therapy as the standard of care for treating these ailments.

But many patients are referred to tanning salons instead by physicians, as the cost of a tanning session is almost always less expensive than the health insurance co-payment of a dermatology-based phototherapy session. As a result, the number of phototherapy treatments by dermatologists has plummeted. In 1993 dermatologists administered 873,000 visits for phototherapy sessions. By 1998, that number dropped by 94 percent according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which in 2002 described phototherapy sessions as “a safe and effective treatment for psoriasis.”

“If any UV exposure were as dangerous as a recent statement from the AAD claims, then dermatologists would be guilty of violating their Hippocratic oath for using UV in what they describe as burning dosages to treat purely cosmetic skin conditions,” Smart Tan’s Levy said. “Professional tanning facilities are trained to deliver non-burning dosages of UV light to create a cosmetic tan, but a side effect is that people are treating all sorts of conditions informally and effectively. What we’re really seeing is dermatology’s anger for the loss of billions of dollars in phototherapy treatments in their offices, as consumers choose a more economical and convenient method of self-care.”

Professional indoor tanning facilities promote a balanced message about UV exposure — acknowledging the risks of overexposure. In contrast, dermatology lobbying groups continue to mislead the public by suggesting in statements that any UV exposure needs to be avoided.

“While no other medical discipline has a financial motivation to challenge dermatology’s message, it’s clear that in the field people are seeing right through it.” Levy said. “And the public can tell.”