We Are Sunshine

U.S. Derms Refer 900,000 To Sunbeds: Survey

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

An International Smart Tan Network 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 shows that the recent press release from the American Academy of Dermatology in which the organization contended that “100 percent of dermatologists discourage tanning” is baseless.

Based on the survey, dermatologists refer an estimated 900,000 people to sunbeds in the United States every year.

“Two of my doctors told me I needed to tan: my dermatologist for my skin psoriasis, and my regular doctor for depression from not getting enough sun light…Tanning did help a lot,” said Robert Van Dine, a patron at Midnight Sun & Cruise in Holland, Mich., a Smart Tan member facility.

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,” said Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy. “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, AAD continues to mislead the public by suggesting in its statements that any UV exposure causes melanoma, which completely misrepresents the science. “This has never been a health care debate,” said Levy. “This is the cosmetic dermatology industry attacking indoor tanning for strictly financial gain.”

The AAD has come under fire from within its ranks for its position on melanoma. In 2008, Dr. Bernard Ackerman — a pioneer in dermatology pathology recognized as a Master Dermatologist by AAD — backed up Smart Tan’s position about the complex relationship between UV and melanoma in the Dermatology Times stating, “There is no compelling evidence that sun tan parlors have induced a single melanoma,” and that any regulation of the tanning market “…should be predicated on evidence and not on accusation.”

In fact, AAD spokesperson Dr. James Spencer admitted in a May 2008 article in Dermatology Times that, “We don’t have direct experimental evidence,” referring to the fact that research has not shown a causative mechanism between indoor tanning and melanoma. The studies the AAD has referred to do not show causation — only weak correlations that are confounded by study design. The organization continues to omit refuting evidence and studies and the fact that most studies don’t show a correlation.

Further, while AAD is lobbying to restrict indoor tanning, its lobbying efforts have always called for phototherapy treatment in dermatology offices to be exempted from further restriction.

“It’s time that researchers and the media start asking tough questions about why dermatologists refuse to talk about these issues and their real motivations around their attacks on indoor tanning,” Levy said.