11/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Skin and Politics 2: The VP Edition

Thursday night' s vice presidential debate that was broadcast in high definition allowed us to see each candidate's skin in an unusual amount of detail. My professional dermatology colleagues all came to the conclusion that Joe Biden's softened lines between the eyes are most likely the result of Botox treatments. Before and after photos published in the New York Post, comparing his appearance with 2005 clearly show reduced forehead wrinkles, which could not be due to camouflage makeup. I think the look works for the Senator and helped him project an authoritative and calm demeanor while still giving the appropriate amount of facial expression.

Governor Palin's close-ups showed that makeup can mask the sun damage on her face, but glaringly missed the wrinkles and sunspots on her neck and chest. There's no doubt that the time spent in her home tanning bed according to contributed to this severe sun damage. According to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 90 percent of the visible changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun or other UV sources.

The tanning industry, with $5 billion of annual revenue, has rushed to Palin's defense by defending her use of a tanning bed against those medical elite types like myself who warn that that UV exposure increases one's chance of developing skin cancer and hastens skin aging and wrinkles. Even if she scoffs at people who dedicate their lives to understanding, preventing, and treating skin cancer, you would think that she would use her own common sense and see how her running mate's sun exposure caused him to suffer from multiple melanomas.

Her use of tanning beds is irresponsible on a number of levels. Having a tanning bed in the home increases the chances that her young children will become tanorexics and develop skin cancer. Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds before age 35 increases melanoma risk by 75 percent. Melanoma is currently the second most common form of cancer in people aged15 to 29 years old and this instance is rising. Over 19 states have passed legislation to restrict minors from visiting tanning beds to try to curb this epidemic.

From a public policy perspective, skin cancer treatments consume significant resources from our Medicare budget as skin cancer is one of the most costly cancers to treat. Medicare spends $426 million annually to treat skin cancers, even though it only covers patients over 65 years old. The American Cancer society warns that skin cancer is a bigger public health threat than lung or breast cancer, and that it regards tanning machines in the same category as cigarettes.

The society advises to "Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps" and that "Many people believe that the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. Tanning lamps give out UV rays. Health experts advise people to avoid sunlamps and tanning beds."

I hope that the governor will soon realize that using a tanning bed is not maverick behavior, but is just plain dumb.