In July 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an Agency organized within UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), announced through The Lancet Oncology medical journal and press-releases, the “breaking news” about the classification of ‘the use of UV-emitting tanning devices to Group 1, “carcinogenic to humans”’.
This announcement created a new wave of articles and reports in many newspapers, magazines, journals and TV-channels around the world. Many of the articles and reports went far beyond the original source in the reporters’ eagerness to create a “sensation” from this “news”. None of the reporters seem to have bothered to go beyond the press-release, but if they would have done that they would have discovered the following facts:
First – the decision is not built upon any new research but on a review from July 2006 of different researches made during 1990-and early 2000. A closer look at the method of this review (a good starting point is this page: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/2009/sunbeds_uvradiation.php) shows that it was conducted more or less like an Internet search among scientific papers and by using the key search-words “artificial UV” • “sunbeds” • “melanoma” • “skin cancer”. It is therefore no surprise that the “review” came up with a lot of “evidence” for a strong correlation between those search-words. It is almost like a search with the key words “water” and “drowning” probably will yield a very strong correlation and evidence that water actually is the main cause of drowning and the conclusion that public access to swimming-pools therefore should be restricted.
Second – all research that reports any positive effects from UV-light (of which there are a lot with more and more added almost every week) were omitted from the review.
Third – “Solar radiation” is since long included in Group 1 of Carcinogenics. Just like alcoholic products and many other, more ‘”common'” substances than, for example, mustard gas. Therefore, logically, since the UV-radiation from the sun (at least the part that reaches the earth) and the emissions from the lamps in a sunbed are practically the same, UV-radiation from sunbeds should belong to the same group. Towards this background, the almost fanatic attacks on sunbeds alone (in combination of a blatant promotion of sun-protection- and sunless-lotions) seem a little bit out of context, especially since there is no real evidence to support such attacks.
Fourth – the Chairman of the International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on artificial ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer at the time the review was made, Prof Adèle Green from Australia, is sponsored by L'Oreal, the largest supplier to consumers of sunscreen-lotions and artificial tanning lotions in the world (See ref below and here: [UPDATE: That page has since been removed].
This also explains the intensive and expensive PR about the “news” of the upgrading of sunbeds to Group 1 and the strong advice about usage of sunscreen and artificial tan products. Not even tobacco, which obviously doesn’t have any health benefits at all, has gotten this kind of negative PR, because in that case the big commercial interests are on the side of smokers.
Fifth – WHO recommendations from 2005 have not been changed (which is natural because no new “evidence” has been brought forward in this case). *)
*) Update: WHO recommendation on tanning beds has been changes since this post was written. In Fact sheet N°287, Interim revision April 2010, they give recommendations built upon old and obviously fraudulent research sponsored by L'Oreal. See more in this separate post.
Anyhow, all the above doesn't take away the strong negative impact of the latest PR-campaign against indoor tanning. The doctors and scientists who have found solid proof of that UV-light not only is healthy but also necessary, have no rich companies that can sponsor their PR, making the debate very one-sided.
Governmental bodies in most countries have been easily and heavily affected by the recommendations from WHO and the media-reports but haven't so far shown any tendencies to consider recent findings about the benefits of UV-light. (When will we, for example, see recommendations for regular blood-tests measuring Vitamin-D levels? To follow up the level of Vitamin-D is probably more important than following the level of cholesterol.)
The representatives for the tanning-industry and you, dear Tanners, must take every opportunity to urge representatives for mass-media to take their responsibility not to blindly report a one-sided view on this issue. There are too many reports on the necessity of UV-light for most functions of the human body for those facts to be ignored. On the latitudes of Northern Europe (north of the latitude through Paris), humans just can’t get enough of Vitamin-D from the natural sun during most part of the year.With the strong evidence that the only relevant and safe source of Vitamin-D comes from UV-light, the continuous campaign against indoor tanning is very counterproductive to common health.
We will reach a much better result and balance if we all work together to teach and promote that moderate, responsible and controlled (by professionals, not by governmental decrees) tanning is good and not bad.
REF.: Point: Sunscreen Use Is a Safe and Effective Approach to Skin Cancer Prevention
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007;16(10):1921 – 2; Received 5/25/07; accepted 6/28/07.
Conflict of Interest: Adele C. Green currently receives funds from L’Oreal to run a research project and has research staff paid for by that company. She is also the co-author of several papers referred to in this article.
Requests for reprints: Adele C. Green, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Royal Brisbane Hospital Post Office, Brisbane, 4029, Queensland, Australia.
Phone: 61-7-3362-0234; Fax: 011-61-7-3845-3503. E-mail: adeleG@qimr.edu.au
Copyright D 2007 American Association for Cancer Research. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-07-0477
Monograph Working Group
B Armstrong—Co-Chair (Australia), E Cardis—Co-Chair (Spain); A Green (Australia); D Krewski, R Mitchel, N Priest (Canada); L Tomašek (Czech Republic); K Baverstock (Finland); J-F Doré, J Hall, L Sabatier (France); M Sokolnikov (Russian Federation); M Hill, M Little, M Marshall, C Muirhead, A Riddell (UK); D Brenner [unable to attend], R Guilmette, D Hoel, D Richardson, R Ullrich (USA)
Conflicts of interest
NP works for, and RM is a consultant to, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. CM receives funding from the UK Ministry of Defence. JH receives funding from Electricité de France. AG receives funding from L'Oreal Recherche.