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Told to Go Get a Tan?

By HERWriter
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Skin Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Delta Payet, now 40, was told by her doctor while in her 20’s to go get some sun for the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that she was experiencing during a long cold winter in Vermont. She went to a tanning salon about three times a week for about three months then intermittently for the next three years, as reported in a story in Self magazine’s June 2011 issue.

Later, at the age of 30, a dermatologist found and removed a precancerous mole on Payet's arm, leaving a 1-inch-by-1-inch scar. More moles followed and were removed and the dermatologist expressed that it was unusual for someone with no family history of skin cancer to develop so many moles--unless she had excessively tanned in her youth.

Twenty years ago, it would not be surprising for a doctor to tell a patient to go get some sun to feel better but today, we wouldn’t expect anyone to be told to get a tan for a non-medical reason.

The self.com article went on to state that according to a survey by the International Smart Tan Network of 6,881 people who went to tanning salons, 46 percent of indoor tanners say they’ve gone tanning for non-cosmetic reasons and 11 percent did so on the advice of their doctor. Those surveyed reported that their doctors suggested they seek tanning to treat conditions such as depression, vitamin D deficiency, skin disorders or fibromyalgia.

It is important to note that the International Smart Tan Network is not a particularly unbiased group. They are an organization that promotes indoor tanning and they assist their members with their indoor tanning businesses through information and sales support. Access to the survey is not available on their website so it isn’t not known how the survey questions were worded to determine how a patient was advised to go to a tanning salon.

Doctors do know that indoor tanning can cause skin cancer. It may be that doctors made casual suggestions to patients that they get some sun with or without following the statement with an extra precaution to wear sunscreen or to limit their exposure to only so many minutes a day.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to send patients to tanning salons for any medical reasons,” said Bruce Brod, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in the self.com article. “Indoor tanning doesn’t have health benefits. It causes skin cancer!”

Other tanning bed organizations such as the UV Foundation have also tried to promote indoor tanning in the name of fighting vitamin D deficiencies. They look for opportunities to fund research that justifies use of tanning beds as beneficial.

According to Brod, “Sending a patient to an indoor tanning salon for vitamin D is the definition of insanity.” Other dermatology experts stated that there is no need to tan, that vitamin D supplements “work just as well."

Indoor tanning is not necessary to fight the conditions that the survey respondents claimed they were told to get tanning to try to help. SAD treatments are well studied and patients need exposure to SAD lights, not tanning lights. For more on this, see my article: www.empowher.com/skin-hair-nails/content/do-sad-lights-cause-cancer. Vitamin D deficiencies can be treated with supplements or through limited sun exposure while wearing sunscreen. Fibromyalgia has been helped with gentle movement therapies such as Tai Chi. There are plenty of alternatives to indoor tanning which research has shown can triple or even quadruple the risk of developing melanoma if used regularly (webmd ).

Today, Payet is an aesthetician with her own skin care salon in Arizona. She is the one who gives others skin care guidance but she still wonders if following her doctor’s suggestion 20 years ago might have caused her to develop those precancerous moles.

A Prescription for Cancer

The International Smart Tan Network

Tanning Beds Triple Melanoma Risk


Edited by Alison Stanton

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s health care and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

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June 6, 2013 - 6:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

Please don't point people into the wrong direction with false information. You cannot make Vitamin D while wearing sunblock. And a bigger question is why would you promote "fake" Vitamin D supplements over a natural process. Everything causes cancer in excess, but in moderation most things are fine.

June 6, 2013 - 9:57am

I had level 4 Melanoma 30 years ago. It was caused by my hormones (as determined by my ob/gyn and surgeon - I was 8 months pregnant when diagnosed). So the sun alone is not the sole cause of melanoma. Overuse of anything is not good for us. I love the sun and do NOT use sunscreens at all, not even here in Phoenix (ok I do seek the shade from 9 am until 6 pm....) but I refuse to use sunblocks, I want as much natural Vit D as I can get over the synthetic kind. If you expose part of your skin (hand, foot, etc) to the sun for 10 to 20 minutes per day (not even all at once) you can get your daily dose of Vit D (or so they say).

June 6, 2011 - 3:20pm
EmpowHER Guest

To say that there are not health benefits to moderate tanning is unrealistic, and sounds defensive. You cannot pinpoint this one woman's tanning as causing cancer. We don't know of every burn she ever got since she was young, whether she burned in the tanning bed when she did go, or her family's medical history. Myself, I have no skin cancer on either side of my family. I tan extremely moderately, never get pink, have no moles, and am so unlikely to develop skin cancer that it doesn't cross my mind. I am exposed to less UV as a tanner than probably lots of people my age just because they are outside and at the beach so much while I am not. Breast cancer does run in my family, and the Vitamin D my mother and I get from tanning reduces our risk and chance of survival up to 75%. These are the numbers that matter to me.

June 5, 2011 - 11:13am
EmpowHER Guest

Melanoma is more common in indoor workers. That would be impossible if it were directly related to sunlight.

The people telling you to avoid tanning are also telling you to put toxic chemical sunscreen on/in your body every day. Google "oxybenzone, toxin" and see what's invading your body!

Every cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor. It's obviously VERY important!

77% of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient. 97% of Canadians are deficient.

Indoor tanners have 90 percent higher vitamin D levels, higher bone density, and they sunburn less often.

Indoor tanning is a great substitute for what nature intended, regular sun exposure. What's not natural is rubbing toxic chemicals all over your skin every day.

People with Skin Type I are prohibited from tanning in certified tanning salons. They are unable to tan and are advised to minimize UV exposure.

Melanoma is more common in indoor workers. That would be impossible if it were directly related to sunlight.

The people telling you to avoid tanning are also telling you to put toxic chemical sunscreen on/in your body every day. Google "oxybenzone, toxin" and see what's invading your body!

Every cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor. It's obviously VERY important!

June 4, 2011 - 7:37pm
EmpowHER Guest

Smart & balanced of anything is the key to tanning or being in the sun. It remains unclear what her skin type was and how much time she spent in the sun besides going to a tanning salon.

Chemical Sunscreens are money driven......that is a product being absorbed into our skin that we know little about the affects of. It is being encouraged by dermatologists to use in many many products
many hours of the day.

June 4, 2011 - 12:13pm
EmpowHER Guest

It comes down to simple math, if women tanned their skin (and face) their acne would clear up and they wouldn't need sunscreen or makeup and their esthetician and dermatologist would go bankrupt from lost appointments and product sales followed by a crash of the sunscreen and cosmetics industries. As a side effect their skyrocketing vitamin D levels would prevent cancers and keep them out of the doctors office, something the medical and cancer industries (that are for profit of course) will not tolerate. Way to much money to be made from sick people taking prescription drugs (just watch the commercials on tv) to let that happen! It is all biased! Every bit of it! It is all about the money, always has been!

June 4, 2011 - 9:03am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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