There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan, whether it is from exposure to the UV rays of the sun, or UV rays from tanning beds, according to experts who have published three studies reviewing the evidence so far and concluded that the tanning industry, in pursuit of profit, was confusing the public about the facts. They also said there was a need for more research.

The papers are published as a series in the October edition of Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, the official journal of The International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies (IFPCS) and the Society for Melanoma Research.

All three papers are written by leaders in the fields of cell biology, dermatology and epidemiology who reviewed the evidence on the effects of UV light on the skin, including that from using tanning beds. They have called for a ban on the use of tanning beds by the under 18s, and also for a ban on advertisements that claim tanning beds are safe.

The researchers said that the published data suggested that use of indoor tanning beds is linked to increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and does not support the notion that they are safe. Tanning beds are most popular with young women.

UV radiation affects skin in a number of ways, including damage to DNA, ageing and skin cancer. The researchers emphasized that for humans, the skin is the organ most commonly affected by cancer, and UV radiation is the most commonly occurring carcinogen.

In one of the papers, Dr David E Fisher, dermatologist and president of the Society of Melanoma Research, and colleagues from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, reviewed two fields of research: the social issues around tanning and also the molecular mechanisms triggered by exposure to UV radiation.

They said that the biological mechanisms of tanning and skin cancer both start with DNA damage from being exposed to UV radiation, which led to their concluding that safe tanning using UV light is most likely a physical impossibility.

In their conclusion, Fisher and colleagues wrote that:

“UVR [ultraviolet radiation] exposure represents one of the most avoidable causes of cancer risk and mortality in man.”

“Whereas genetic and other factors undoubtedly contribute importantly to skin cancer risk, the role of UV is incontrovertible, and efforts to confuse the public, particularly for purposes of economic gain by the indoor tanning industry, should be vigorously combated for the public health,” they added.

According to figures from the American Academy of Dermatology, in the US, one person dies every 62 minutes from melanoma, and the World Health Organization estimates for the year 2000 showed that 71,000 people died worldwide from over exposure to UV radiation.

“UV and pigmentation: molecular mechanisms and social controversies.”
Thanh-Nga T. Tran, Joshua Schulman, David E. Fisher.
Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, Volume 21 Issue 5 (October 2008), pp 509-516.
Published Online: Sep 18 2008.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2008.00498.x

“Are tanning beds ‘safe’? Human studies of melanoma”.
Marianne Berwick.
Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, Volume 21 Issue 5 (October 2008), pp 517-519.
Published Online: Sep 18 2008.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2008.00499.x

“Ultraviolet wavebands and melanoma initiation.
Dorothy C. Bennett.
Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, Volume 21 Issue 5 (October 2008), pp 520-524.
Published Online: Sep 18 2008.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-148X.2008.00500.x

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Source: Wiley-Blackwell.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD