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Weighing the costs and benefits of using sunbeds

Posted on: November 1, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD

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Finally, a group of scientists willing to take on the cosmetic companies and the dermatologists. Professor Johan Moan and colleagues from the University of Oslo compared the risk of using sunbeds to the risk of not using sunbeds. They concluded that the same sunbeds that cause death from melanoma (and they point out that that is a big if) save more people by a factor of 10 by preventing chronic disease.

Moan J, Baturaite Z, Juzeniene A, Porojnicu AC. Vitamin D, sun, sunbeds and health. Public Health Nutr. 2011 Oct 24:1-5.

You can take a chance and say all the good sunlight and sunbeds do is make vitamin D, so I’m going to stay out of both and simply take a pill every day. That may be true, but I doubt it. Remember, Nature evolved a powerful reward system for those who expose their skin to ultraviolet light. Take endorphins for example. These natural narcotics, the same ones that cause the runner’s high, give humans a powerful reward for exposing their skin to ultraviolet light. I doubt that we would have evolved this way by chance.

The authors also point out that sunbed use in Norway increased significantly after 1990, but the diagnosis of melanoma did not change. They also point out that indoor workers, not outdoor workers, are the ones most likely to get melanoma. It appears to me that severe sunburns are the risk factor, not sunbed use per se.

In addition, the authors pointed out that the highest associations between melanoma and sunbeds was during the period between 1957 and 1977, when the only people owning commercial sunbeds were the dermatologists. People are often surprised to learn that the most powerful sunbeds on the market are in dermatologists’ offices (to treat psoriasis), but many psoriasis patients have learned that commercial tanning parlors work just fine at one-tenth the cost, much to the chagrin of the dermatologists.

It appears to me that the “melanoma epidemic,” (remember this is an “epidemic” of stage one melanoma, like an “epidemic” of pneumonia that only involves radiologists tripling the number of chest X-rays they read as pneumonia) is more about a turf war over who should control the sunbeds than it is about good medicine.

4 Responses to Weighing the costs and benefits of using sunbeds

  1. Nandyal

    When discussing tanning beds with my patients, typically young women, I have to reason with them to investigate the tanning beds and only use one that also has UVB rays. Many tanning bed salons brag that they do not have UVB. I tell the patients to only take the risk if there is some potential benefit. As I understand it, the UVB is a must to manufacture the Vit D precursors.

  2. kander72@comcast.net

    Question for Dr. Cannell: Based on what you know, what kind of sunbed schedule would you recommend? Thanks in advance!

  3. watercolor6539@aol.com

    I recently purchased the hanging DLight from Mercola.com which only has UVB plus red rays.
    As I have had melanoma, this seemed the best choice. The day after my first 3 minute session, I
    found I was able to slow “run” in playing with my dog for the first time in quite a while. I keep my blood levels with supplements about 100 ng and haven’t had a cold or flu since I raised my VD3 to 10,000 IU but at 72, I have been slowing down.
    The instructions are the same for all the sunbeds which are to use only in 48 hours intervals.
    Do you think this is a wise precaution, Dr. Cannell?

  4. rkcannon@yahoo.com

    There are many natural spectrum lamps out there but I can’t find out how much or what type if any is UV. And there is another blue light product people think gives them Vit D. There are other benefits of infrared, colors etc. Infrared sauna is a good way to sweat out the toxins for example.

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