A Safe Tan? There's No Such Thing

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Scientists are warning there's no such thing as a safe tan. They say the exposure to the sun actually damages the body's DNA.

The warnings appear in three separate research papers on tanning published in the October issue of Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research.

One researcher says the signals that make skin darken is a first step towards mutations that can lead to cancer.

"There's a lot of money to be made, and the tanning industry has been quite successful even in places like New Mexico and South America selling tanning as a safe alternative to outdoor sun," said Marianne Berwick, author of one of the papers and a professor of internal medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque. "We're trying to point out that it's not the case."

All of the papers draw a conclusion to one main point. No matter where you get them from, ultraviolet rays cause skin cancer.

"We wanted to counter the marketing and a response to the misperception of the true cost/benefit analysis of UV radiation," said Dr. David Fisher, director of the Melanoma Program in Medical Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, president of the Society of Melanoma Research, and author of one of the other papers in the journal.

The tanning industry is refuting the studies findings.

"Here are three more studies that make irresponsible assertions without providing any concrete link between indoor tanning and melanoma," said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. "The fact is, UV light provides vitamin D, which helps the body ward off many types of diseases, and the rewards that come with moderate and responsible exposure to UV light far outweigh the consequences of not getting enough of it."

But Vitamin D can also come from safer sources.

"We know that vitamin D is synthesized in the skin after ultraviolet radiation hits the skin. It's how you couch the discussion when the indoor tanning association took out a full-page ad in The New York Times right before prom season and lists all the good things about vitamin D," Fisher said. "Basically, you're getting vitamin D from a carcinogen."

The World Health Organization estimates up to 60,000 people each year die from skin cancer. In the U.S., skin cancer is the most common cancer, with more than one million new cases diagnosed this year alone.

The WHO is lobbying for a ban on sunbed use by people under the age of 18.

Sources: U.S. News & World Report, Pigment.org

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