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How big is the risk of indoor tanning in reality and will the new rules from the FDA reduce the risk of getting melanoma from sunbeds?

The new rules from FDA about sunbeds are plainly wrong and based upon fiction and PR, not facts.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory authority in USA responsible for
  • protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, and medical devices. The FDA is also responsible for the safety and security of most of our nation’s food supply, all cosmetics, dietary supplements and products that give off radiation.

FDA-Indoor Tanning Raises Risk of Melanoma-Recently (29 May 2014) FDA announced new rules for “Sunlamp Products”:

Indoor Tanning Raises Risk of Melanoma: FDA Strengthens Warnings for Sunlamp Products

Using sunlamp products such as tanning beds or tanning booths increases the risk of skin damage, skin cancer and eye injury, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and numerous other health organizations. A particularly dangerous result is melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology and the World Health Organization, indoor tanning heightens the risk of developing melanoma by 59 percent, and the risk goes up with each use. Despite these risks, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), thousands of Americans will opt for an indoor tan. The ACS estimates that nearly 13,000 people die each year from skin cancers—approximately 9,700 of which are from melanoma. The ACS predicts that in 2014, melanoma will account for 76,100 cases of skin cancer.


The above quote is from FDA’s statement about the new sunbed rules. It contains some much-disputed statistics for the increased risk of developing melanoma from sunbeds.

FDA use information from an interest organization thriving on skin-cancer

FDA mention the American Cancer Society as the source of information, together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD). The dubious work by WHO that resulted in the classification of first sunlight and then sunbeds as carcinogens in the most dangerous group, is heavily criticized for being biased against indoor tanning and for being financed by manufacturers of sun protection cosmetics. The American Cancer Society gets their information about skin cancer from The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a huge interest organization for dermatologists in the USA.
The American Academy of Dermatology was founded in 1938. It is the largest, most influential and most representative dermatology group in the United States. With a membership of more than 17,000, it represents virtually all practicing dermatologists in the United States, as well as a growing number of international dermatologists.
AAD is living on and thriving of skin-cancer. The more people who are diagnosed with skin-cancer, the more work for dermatologists and the more income for AAD (members=profit). Interesting and symptomatic enough, there is not one word mentioned about any goal of reducing skin-cancer in AAD’s Vision, mission and values and Strategic framework. Still they spend huge efforts and resources on the lobbying of reducing Americans’ exposure to sunlight and sunbeds. Could it be because they know that by doing so they will also create more jobs for their members? Or, maybe it could be because 10$ tanning sessions in a tanning salon are out-competing the 100$ sessions in a dermatologist’s clinic? For sure, the AAD has succeeded in the task of creating more skin-cancers. The statistic below from SEER tells the story about a total failure of preventing skin-cancer deaths but a great success in creating more skin cancer incidences.

Melanoma - diagnoses and mortality - SEER The statistic also shows the result of overdiagnoses of melanoma. The overdiagnoses comes from early-screening campaigns promoted by the AAD and their peers in the skin-cancer industry.

Early screening with another meaning

The early screening campaigns and the resulting increase in thin, non-malign, melanoma (and non-melanoma) diagnoses are extremely beneficial for the AAD because they …
  • … Bring in more patients for their members.
  • … Fuel the sun-scare and keeps more and more people away from healing UV-exposure.
  • … Help biased research to be able to show an increased risk of skin-cancer for any desired risk-factors (e.g. sunbeds)
  • … Create an image of success for the AAD (and ACS) by increasing the 5-year survival rate among the victims of the overdiagnoses (since most diagnoses never were malign from the beginning).
Unfortunately, nothing of this does anything to reduce the number of people dying from melanoma. Rather the opposite.

FDA refuses to listen to the arguments from organizations who want to prevent skin-cancer.

There are also interest organizations for the indoor tanning business who want that people NOT get skin-cancer from sunbeds. Those organizations (like the ITA and ASA) are packed with people who are dedicated to finding the truth about the risks of getting skin-cancer from UV-exposure. They research the sun-scare research with the help of unbiased experts. As a rule, they find that companies who makes money either on sun-protection, skin-cancer or both are paying for the reports which show any increased risks of skin-cancer from indoor tanning.

Is a white coat and a MD exam in dermatology a guarantee for honesty and righteousness?

So on one side we have the doctors in white coats who makes more money the more people are diagnosed with skin-cancer and who also want to keep sunbeds confined to their clinics. On the other side we have professionals who strongly believe they are providing useful and healthy services to the public while also providing responsible and truthful information about the risks involved. Now, which side do you think the FDA is relying on when making their new rules about sunbeds? Of course the guys in the white coats. That is how the free market economy works today.

Relative, adjusted and real risk.

The ingress to the news rules about “sunlamp products” states that “indoor tanning heightens the risk of developing melanoma by 59 percent, and the risk goes up with each use”. Even if assuming that the 59% is the end-result (after having gone up with each use), it is still a measure of the relative risk. Having described in detail in this article why it is impossible to point to one single cause of melanoma. I will just repeat that if the result from a case/control study does not take into account and adjust for the overdiagnoses, it is by design fatally flawed.

What is then the real risk of attracting melanoma from sunbeds?

According to AAD themselves, “Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the United States annually.”. AAD also estimates that about 9,000 people die of melanoma each year. Even if assuming that indoor tanning caused ALL of those deaths, the risk of dying from melanoma obtained from sunbeds would be 0.03% (i.e. 1 in 3,300). Obviously, not all of those dying of melanoma have ever used a sunbed. (No research has bothered to find out that statistics, probably because it in reality is statistically insignificant, like in this European study). Applying an amount of indoor tanners among the people dying of melanoma proportional to the total population (~10%) would bring the theoretical risk of getting a deadly melanoma from indoor tanning down to 0.003% (i.e. 1 in 33,000). This theoretical and hypothetical (and, for sure, exaggerated) example shows that 29,999,100 out of 30 million persons in that case use sunbeds without dying from it. Compare the risk-ratio in our example above (1 in 33,000) with some other risks (which many of them actually can be reduced by regular and moderate UV-exposure), and you might start to wonder why FDA, ACS and AAD spend that much resources on trying to scare you away from indoor tanning.

risk-cause-of-death SOURCE: Many people (I am one of them) believe that the risks from using sunbeds are both neglectable as well as negotiable and with advantages many times over compensating for any risks. Statistic shows that the fanatical focus on UV-exposure as the main risk factor for skin-cancer is leading in the wrong direction. That is if the goal is to find the real risk factors and reduce the number of people dying from malign melanoma. If the goal is for the dermatologists, their branch-organizations and their corporate sponsors to make more money on behalf of tax- and insurance payers, the direction is indeed the right one. The FDA and the American Cancer Society use information from AAD as base for new rules for sunbeds. The sad truth is that they then are “shooting themselves in the foot” since lack of UV-exposure increase the risk for all other cancers. This is not only like putting the fox to guard the chicken coup. It is like letting a whole bunch of foxes design all chicken coups in America. Regarding early detection, listen here what Dr. Caldwell tells on iHealthTube: Now, tell us what you think of the information above (and share it with others)!


12 thoughts on “FDA wants to reduce the risk of melanoma and makes new rules for sunbeds but how big is the risk of indoor tanning in reality?”

  1. Robin Eason

    Thanks for your common sense approach and more realistic risk factor of 1 in 33,000.

  2. This article was super helpful and on point, thank you so much.
    Thanks for sharing your insights

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    I hope this world relies soon that getting up early can change your life.
    Thanks for such an inspirational article. You really inspired me.

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    That’s weird because these decisions must be based not upon the opinion of an organization (whatever reputation it has), but on reliable scientific papers which are absent here

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