While indoor tanning is a cosmetic service, a well-known side effect of exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light is the production of vitamin D. Emerging evidence suggests that there may be an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in North America. Research also suggests that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining good health. In light of this evidence, the Indoor Tanning Association believes that the health benefits of indoor tanning deserve further research.
Europeans started tanning indoors with sunlamps that emitted ultraviolet light as a therapeutic exercise to harness the positive psychological and physiological effects of UV exposure. Long before the first tanning facility was established in the United States in the late 1970s, the practice of visiting a “solaria” for the positive effects of UV light was widespread in Europe, particularly in the sun-deprived, northern countries. Although indoor tanning is considered a cosmetic exercise in the United States, the industry’s roots are therapeutic, and many Americans do in fact visit tanning facilities for that purpose.
The science of photobiology, which studies the effects of light on life, was founded on studying the positive effects of sunlight. Indeed, the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine was awarded to Dr. Niels Finsen for his work treating the disease lupus vulgaris with ultraviolet light. While the indoor tanning industry in the United States promotes its services for cosmetic purposes, the fact remains that exposing the skin to ultraviolet light is the body’s primary means of producing vitamin D (which in turn is related to positive physiological effects). Exposure to UV light is also responsible for the production of endorphins and serotonin (which in turn is related to positive psychological effects). Given these facts, the ITA feels confident that indoor tanning can indeed offer health as well as cosmetic benefits.
NEW STUDY SUGGESTS SUNTANS MAY HELP PREVENT MELANOMA
(Received from Smart Tan International - 3/20/07)
Researchers are still concerned about dangers of UV overexposure. But their study supports the role of a natural tan.
A HarvardUniversity study published last week has added further credibility to the tanning industry's contention that sun tanning in a non-burning fashion - for people who can develop tans - is a good thing, contending that sun tans actually help reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer.
"The number one risk factor for melanoma is an inability to tan; people who tan easily or have dark skin pigmentation are far less likely to develop the disease," said Dr. David E. Fisher, lead author of the study who serves as the director of the Melanoma Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, affiliated with Harvard University.
It should be noted the study does not mention indoor tanning specifically and Dana-Farber public relations personnel in their press statements on the study caution everyone that UV exposure still can be harmful and the public needs to avoid excessive exposure.
The study was published March 9 in the international bio-chemistry journal "Cell." It contends that the cellular chemistry that takes place in the skin while a tan is developed actually helps prevent melanoma skin cancer.
It all involves the role of a special gene in human DNA called the p53 gene, long studied for its apparent role in preventing many different forms of cancer. The Dana-Farber research team has discovered the role that p53 apparently plays in triggering the melanin-producing process in the skin's melanocytes and karatinocytes - a process that still has many chemical mysteries to it.
The same chemical process linked to the p53 gene may also account for the skin's production of beta-endorphins - substances that make people feel good when they are in the sun.
Dermatologists have argued in recent years that beta-endorphin production makes tanning an addictive behavior like smoking or drinking. But a more accurate description of beta-endorphins role is that humans need sunlight in order to be healthy and endorphins are Mother Nature's way of making sure we are attracted to the sun.
According to the study, UV-induced tanning requires secretion of a special hormone called alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (a-MSH) by the skin's karatinocytes. This hormone is key to activating another compound in the skin called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) which binds to melanocytes signalling them to initiate the tanning process.
Humans and mice who lack the p53 gene do not produce POMC, and therefore are incapable of tanning, contends the study, titled "Central Role of p53 in the Suntan Response and Pathologic Hyperpigmentation."
"This study demonstrates that tanning is indeed a natural and intended process in human biology and that the dermatology and cosmetics industries are wrong in simply describing tanning as 'skin damage' as they have for years," Smart Tan vice president Joseph Levy said. "This adds credibility to the belief that people who can develop tans are genetically at lower risk for melanoma and that people who can tan who seek the sun are initiating a natural protection mechanism against melanoma."
The dermatology and cosmetics industries have long oversimplified UV light's complicated relationship with melanoma, alleging that any exposure to sunlight is damaging and increases one's risk of melanoma skin cancer. In promoting that statement, they have conspicuously ignored confounding information, such as the universally recognized facts that melanoma is more common in indoor workers than in outdoor workers, and that it appears most commonly on parts of the body that do not get regular sunlight.
Smart Tan will continue to report on this subject.