03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Tanning Industry Lies

For years the indoor tanning industry has been making irresponsible and dangerous claims regarding the safety and health benefits of indoor tanning.

Yesterday, however, the Indoor Tanning Association -- the national trade group representing tanning facilities and suppliers of tanning equipment -- was forced to settle a charge by the Federal Trade Commission that bars it from further deception.

In March 2008, the association launched a particularly outrageous advertising campaign portraying indoor tanning as safe and beneficial. According to the FTC charge, the campaign included national newspaper ads, television and video advertising, two Websites, a communications guide, and point-of-sale materials that were provided to association members for distribution in local markets.

The advertisement campaign made these false claims:

CLAIM: Tanning does not increase the risk of skin cancer.

Indoor tanning does increase the risk of skin cancers. Sunburns and tans are both signs of skin damage, and both acute burns and chronic tanning have been linked to future skin cancer development. Deliberate tanning, either indoors or out, increases your risk of melanoma and squamous cell skin cancer.

This past year after reviewing all scientific evidence, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, concluded that tanning devices that emit UV radiation are even more dangerous than previously thought and moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category.

CLAIM: Indoor tanning is approved by the government.

No U.S. government agency recommends or endorses the use of indoor tanning equipment. In fact, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Dermatology all warn of the dangers of tanning and support increased restrictions on indoor tanning, particularly for minors.

CLAIM: Indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors because the amount of ultraviolet light received when tanning indoors is monitored and controlled.

Sun lamps may actually be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same high intensity every day of the year. Radiation from the sun varies in intensity with the time of day, the season, and cloud cover. Studies show that many people who tan indoors get burns.

CLAIM: Research shows that vitamin D supplements may harm the body's ability to fight disease.

Vitamin D does have many roles in human health. It is essential for good bone health and more recently it has been linked to decreased cancer rates. However, while UVB radiation helps your body produce vitamin D, you don't need a tan to get that benefit. In fact, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected natural sun exposure on your face and hands 2 to 3 times a week during the summer gives you a healthy dose of vitamin D. For those who need additional vitamin D, oral supplements are recommended.

CLAIM: A National Academy of Sciences study determined that "the risks of not getting enough ultraviolet light far outweigh the hypothetical risk of
skin cancer."

This is not true. The study being referred to was published by the Institute of Medicine in 1997 entitled "Dietary reference intakes: Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride." This report comments on the varying amount of sun exposure experienced by different individuals at different times in their life, which they took into consideration when coming up with recommended amounts of vitamin D supplementation. This report never advocates increased sun exposure, and definitely never advocates indoor tanning. The study also never refers to the well-established link between tanning and skin cancer as "hypothetical."

Under yesterday's settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Indoor Tanning Association is prohibited from continuing to make the above misrepresentations, from misrepresenting any other tests or studies, and from providing deceptive advertisements to members. The settlement also requires that future association ads that make safety or health benefits claims for indoor tanning may not be misleading and must be substantiated. Further, the order requires that certain future advertisements contain disclosures.

Ads that make claims about the safety or health benefits of indoor tanning are now required to clearly and prominently make this disclosure:

"NOTICE: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood
of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury."

Ads that claim exposure to ultraviolet radiation produces vitamin D in the body, or make other claims about the effectiveness or usefulness of indoor tanning products or services for the body's generation of vitamin D, must clearly and prominently make this disclosure:

"NOTICE: You do not need to become tan for your skin to make vitamin
D. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury."

The data is becoming more clear and less debatable, and the indoor tanning industry is being forced to realize that there are costs associated with selling carcinogenic products and services to the public.


"Indoor Tanning Association Settles FTC Charges That It Deceived Consumers About Skin Cancer Risks From Tanning" at

International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on artificial ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer. "The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review." In: The International Journal of Cancer. March 1, 2007.

Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes: Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.