Nothing gets the ire up on someone that’s been affected by melanoma more that another person defending the use of tanning beds. The defender will usually mention that a “base tan” helps to protect from further sun damage (wrong). But more often than not, they put on their most confident face when they mention the need for Vitamin D. Recently, there were two very different talk shows which had guests that both used the Vitamin D Defense.
Dr. Oz has a medical talk show that has millions of followers. He is an Oprah spin-off, so he can do no wrong in the eyes of those viewers. One episode earlier this month had a segment called “Why you should not trust your doctor.” His guest for this segment was Dr. Joe Mercola, a doctor that has cutting-edge but rather controversial suggestions regarding health. He suggested to ignore the family physician’s advise to take Vitamin D supplements and to use tanning beds instead to absorb the vitamin more effectively. After Dr. Oz expressed concern (echoed by moans in the crowd), Dr. Mercola went on to explain that the beds should be “safe”…meaning they should emit mostly UVB as opposed to the more dangerous UVA rays. After some more discussion, the beloved Dr. Oz stated that he would “rethink” tanning beds. He did mention that he had no interest in suggesting them for tanning, but that he felt there could be some benefits.
The American Academy of Dermatologists immediately responded with the following statement:
“The AAD is disappointed in a recent statement from Dr. Oz that he is rethinking the benefits of using tanning beds to obtain vitamin D. Research shows that using tanning beds increases your risk of skin cancer. If you would like to express your concern, post a comment on the Dr. Oz webpage (directly beneath the video). We hope you'll help the AAD correct this misinformation that may lead the public into thinking that indoor tanning is a healthy activity.”
Dr. Oz has since issued a follow-up statement including the following:
“My beliefs are firmly aligned with those of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): Research shows that ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning prematurely ages skin and can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to skin cancer. The bottom line is both UVA and UVB rays cause cancer.”
The second talk show was “Chelsea Lately.” Her guest was Pauly D of “Jersey Shore” fame. He’s the one that seems to be most addicted to tanning. I watched a little of an episode recently in which he came back from Italy (to film a season of the show) where they had no tanning beds. He literally ran into a tanning salon yelling “Emergency, Emergency!” and requested to tan in their most intense booth at maximum time, and then have a second session. On his appearance on Chelsea’s show, his skin was indeed fully tan and became the topic of conversation.
After Chelsea suggested that he spray tan rather than use tanning beds (quoting the fact that one has a 75% more chance of getting skin cancer after using tanning beds), Pauly D responded “No, no, no…there’s Vitamin D in there!”
Vitamin D is the tanorexic’s best defense. Dr. Mercola suggests using tanning beds and Pauly D touts it as the healthy reason to get the glow. But what’s the real story?
The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great section on Vitamin D. However, one argument that the tanning industry often mentions is that such foundations are funded by sun lotion companies and thus the studies are biased. So I consulted the Mayo Clinic website to find supposedly unbiased facts. They mention the benefits of Vitamin D, or in other words, the reasons to have sufficient Vitamin D in your system:
“The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It is used, alone or in combination with calcium, to increase bone mineral density and decrease fractures. Recently, research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.”
They mention that, yes the sun is a significant source of Vitamin D…perhaps the best source. However, they go on to say that “as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent (Vitamin D) deficiencies.”
The Mayo Clinic goes on to list fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil as other sources of Vitamin D. ( I personally take Vitamin D3 supplements at the advice of my general practitioner.) Nowhere, I repeat, NO WHERE in the Mayo Clinic information was there mention of tanning beds.
This information was repeated in other medical info websites. Not those that are accusingly sponsored by sun screen companies, but legitimate medical organizations. (Although the Skin Cancer Foundation IS legit…but that’s an argument for another blog)
So my conclusion (and remember, I am NOT a doctor…please consult one for real advice) is as follows:
- It's important to get plenty of Vitamin D.
- The sun is a great source of Vitamin D, but only 10 to 15 minutes a day is needed. Any more than that (unprotected) can be dangerous and cause sun damage.
- One can boost his/her Vitamin D intake with supplements (about 1000 iu per day) and proper food.
- Tanning beds are NOT a healthy source of Vitamin D.