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Weighing the costs and benefits of using sunbeds

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 IF 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.

Researchers believe that the lives saved by suntanning outweigh the deaths caused by a factor of 10.

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.

Posted on November 1, 2011 by Dr John Cannell

About Dr John Cannell
Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, itinerant emergency physician, and psychiatrist.
View all posts by Dr John Cannell →


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