Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Smallest Detail

Despite knowing me my entire life, my uncles and cousins still address my Christmas card to “Allen” or “Allan.”  Um…it’s Alan.  That’s one reason I sometimes go by Al…it’s hard to misspell a two-letter name.

When I go to a restaurant and put my name on the waiting list, the hostess rarely pronounces my last name correctly when I’m called.  I still answer the call to the table of four even when misstated.  After all, I know they mean me, but they just got the name a little wrong.  I’m a patient man, but after awhile, especially after a long hard day, I want to say, “No…that family is not here…did you in fact mean THIS family?”


People have the best of intentions and mean no ill will when they get a slight detail wrong.  Still, imagine if you won an Academy Award and they got your name wrong!  I’m sure you’d be a bit peeved.  The smallest detail can mean so much.

The American Academy of Dermatology wants to paint the nation orange on Monday, May 6 in order to raise skin cancer awareness.  That particular Monday is known as Melanoma Monday.  One has to appreciate the AAD’s efforts to raise awareness.  This organization has supported many state legislative acts to ban tanning, and has always taken a front line in fighting skin cancer.  However, they made a slight mistake when picking the color.  The color associated with skin cancer may be orange, but the color for melanoma is black.  Asking the public to wear orange on Melanoma Monday is like having your name mispronounced at Applebee’s.

One reader of their Facebook page stated, “Who really cares what color ribbon is worn as long as it gets people's interest?”  She has a point…the focus of this day should be increasing awareness.  But I have to wonder if this particular person has been touched by melanoma?  When you’re touched, you embrace the black color.  Sure, others use the color for mourning and other causes, and maybe black is not as bright and cheery as orange.  But the literal meaning of the word “melanoma” is “black tumor.”  It’s a dark, nasty disease with no real cheerfulness about it.  Black is the most representative color this disease could have.

The entire month of May is designated as Skin Cancer Awareness Month…and melanoma is considered by most as a type of skin cancer.  Other forms of skin cancer can be deforming and even deadly (one person dies of squamous cell carcinoma for every three people that die from melanoma).  But with an entire 31-day month to share the news about sun safety and skin exams, why couldn’t the AAD have picked one other day to don the orange?  What about “Don’t Fry Friday” which is the Friday before Memorial Day?  Surely wearing orange leading into the unofficial start of summer would better match the cheerfulness of the coming season.  Any day but Melanoma Monday.

I’m not asking for people to ignore the Spot Orange campaign.  If you have more orange than black in your wardrobe, by all means sport the orange and make sure to tell people why you’re wearing it!  As for me, I don’t have a stitch of orange in my closet.  I “joined” the Spot Orange event in spirit as I plan to make others aware of Melanoma Monday.  However I have plenty of black and melanoma-related attire, and I plan to wear it on May 6…Melanoma Monday.  As a result, I’ve also joined the MelanomaBlack Monday event.

Raise awareness all month long.  But don’t forget the darkness of melanoma.  It’s an important detail.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Discussing the "Health Benefits" of Tanning Beds

Those who support the tanning salon industry tend to taut the supposed health benefits of tanning beds.  As soon as one opposes their views, they tend to accuse our resources as being biased and guilty of using “sun-scare” tactics.  I decided to dig a little deeper and find out what others might say about tanning bed benefits as related to psoriasis, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD ), and Vitamin D deficiency.



According to the National Psoriasis Foundation,” Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune disease that appears on the skin. It occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. Psoriasis is not contagious.  Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S. As many as 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.”

There are various treatments for psoriasis, including phototherapy.  One type of phototherapy is using UVB radiation, either broad-band or narrow-band, with the latter providing quicker results.  It should be noted that all phototherapy treatments require a prescription. 

UVA rays, which are the primary UV radiation of tanning beds, are relatively ineffective unless used with a light-sensitizing medication.  There seem to be more side-effects with UVA treatment and this method is more effective on psoriasis of the palms and soles.

Regarding the use of tanning beds, the National Psoriasis Foundation states the following:  “Some people visit tanning salons as an alternative to natural sunlight. Tanning beds in commercial salons emit mostly UVA light, not UVB. The beneficial effect for psoriasis is attributed primarily to UVB light. The National Psoriasis Foundation does not support the use of tanning beds as a treatment option for psoriasis.”


Seasonal Affective Disorder

Per the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”  One course of treatment for SAD is another type of phototherapy.

In light therapy, a person with SAD sits a few feet away from a bright light therapy box which mimics outdoor light and causes chemicals in the brain to change, thus improving the mood.  It has been stated by the tanning industry that tanning beds provide the type of light necessary for proper treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is simply not true.

The Mayo Clinic discusses this a bit more.  “Some people claim that tanning beds help ease seasonal affective disorder symptoms. But this hasn't been proved to work. Visible light, not the UV light released by tanning beds, is used in light therapy. The type of light released by tanning beds can damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.”


Vitamin D Deficiency

This is probably the number one “health benefit” cited by the tanning industry.  In fact, I recall hearing one NC State legislator argue against a tanning bed bill based solely on the supposed vitamin D benefits.

It’s difficult to find any unbiased information regarding vitamin D and tanning beds.  Tanning supporters obviously see tanning beds as a cure-all for vitamin D deficiency.  Organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation side towards debunking the benefits all together.  I tried to read a little of both sides as well as unbiased articles to formulate my own opinion.

There is no doubt that vitamin D is important to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus and aids in increasing bone density.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Vitamin D is found in many dietary sources, such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies.”  Other sources claim that 20 minutes of exposure on the arms and face alone will also provide enough daily vitamin D.

Recall that sunlight contains both UVA and UVB radiation.  Vitamin D absorption occurs during exposure to UVB rays.  As stated before, tanning beds primarily emit UVA rays.  It stands to reason that standard tanning beds offer no real benefit for increasing vitamin D levels.

There are some tanning beds that emit mostly UVB rays.  Studies performed at Boston University concluded that such tanning beds do increase vitamin D production.  However, most general practitioners and dermatologists will recommend simple vitamin D supplements.  From my own personal experience, I was found to have a deficiency about 3 years ago.  My doctor recommended that I take a daily 1000 IU supplement.  The cost of this daily pill is about 2 cents per day!  Since that time, my levels have been well within the normal range.

In short, vitamin D levels can be increased by tanning beds, but ONLY from those designed to emit UVB rays.   Most standard tanning beds at tanning salons are not such tanning units.  An equally effective and safer mode of increasing your vitamin D levels is through various dietary sources and/or through daily supplements.  Taking vitamin D supplements instead of tanning, either in a tanning bed or in natural sunlight, does not carry the same risk for skin cancer.” – LiveStrong Foundation


As always, do the research yourself.  There are plenty of websites sponsored and written by associations and businesses supporting the tanning industry.  There are also many sites devoted to skin health that discourage the use of tanning beds. 

After reading many sites over several days, I’ve concluded that there are no health benefits from using tanning beds that one can’t find through an alternative source.  In some cases, the preferred treatments of various ailments are significantly more effective and possibly less expensive.  There’s no point risking skin cancer for a health benefit that simply doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Does a Tanning Ban Deny Parental Rights?

This morning, a local TV station posted on their Facebook page that Governor Christie had signed legislation to ban tanning in New Jersey for those under 17.  The station asked, “Do you think more states should follow or leave it up to parents?”  As usual, there were supporters for both sides of the argument.  But since I’m a data geek, I had to analyze a little more deeply.  Here’s what I found:

·         38% of the comments were in favor of such bans.  Most of these respondents had been somehow touched by melanoma. 

·         21% responded that such a ban would violate parental rights.

·         17% stated that the government was already too involved with our personal lives.

·         4% stated that there were more pressing issues to address than a tanning ban.

·         The remaining had other random answers.

Obviously, I was one of the 38% that responded in favor of such a ban.  While I’m usually pretty open-minded in most debates, I’m not sure I can understand the opposing arguments.

The government is “involved” when it comes to many age limits.  Are those opposed to banning the tan for minors also open to allowing minors to drink and smoke without restrictions?  Would they allow children to drive on the highways?  Are they ready for Sponge Bob to be the next president once we allow kids to vote?  Will we expect to find pornography in our children’s back pack along with Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  There are restrictions on such issues for valid reasons and not simply so government can rule with an iron fist. 

I can understand (somewhat) the argument for parental rights.  I’m a parent of two incredible kids and I believe I have the right to provide parental guidance as I see fit.  At the same time, I have already taught them the issues with tanning beds.  They know that not only would daddy be very disappointed if they choose to tan, they know it’s unhealthy and basically a stupid practice.  I have taught them as an informed parent.  The problem is, where tanning beds and skin cancer/melanoma are concerned, many if not most parents are simply uninformed.  They don’t understand that a single visit to a tanning bed can increase the chance of cancer.  They don’t know that melanoma rates in young women are sky-rocketing.  They haven’t become friends with a young woman who died from this horrid disease. 

Right now, at age 10, my kids know that tanning is bad.  When they turn 14 or 15, I’m sure they’ll not agree with all I have to teach.  They may become rebellious.  They may be tempted to tan.  And two teens can most likely find many loopholes right underneath the nose of the best parent.  That’s why I believe even supposedly good parents like me need such a law to ban tanning for minors. 

Your parental rights won’t be denied at all.  You still have a job to do.  Issuing government dictated bans is one thing, but educating our young on WHY such a ban is needed is equally important.  We parents need to be informed so as to teach our kids.  When they whine about wanting a darker glow, we need to help them understand why it’s an unhealthy choice.  We need to teach them about safety in the sun as well and make them understand the importance of wearing sunscreen and hats.  Trust me, even with a tanning bed ban; you’ll have plenty parenting to do.