Suntan Skeptic

Your “Saving Face” article [May-June 2010] describes important work being done by Dr. Jonathan Cook and the Duke Mohs Surgery Unit, but two accompanying tables (“Are You at Risk?” and “What Cost Beauty?”) repeat popular misconceptions about tanning without any critical inquiry concerning their accuracy. As a history major at Duke, I learned to question handed-down truths, especially when powerful economic interests depend on the acceptance of these truths to sustain themselves, but the colorful, breezy tables in “Saving Face” offer anti-tanning dogma as fact without a hint of curiosity about the real data and its source.

In this case, in fact, there is mounting data that tanning is not only safe, but that tanning can reduce the risk of a number of diseases (including some cancers and depression) and improve a person’s sense of well-being. While numerous studies back up the claim that sunburns are dangerous, the academic literature does not support a similar conclusion about tanning.

The anti-tanning hype that has permeated the public consciousness since the late 1970s comes from the cosmetics and beauty industry, which created and now sustains a multi-billion-dollar market based on public fear of the sun and tanning. Their handmaidens in this venture have been the beauty and style magazines, whose editorial content has been corrupted because they rely on advertising of SPF lotions and chemical self-tanning products for their survival.
I laud Dr. Cook's work as a surgeon who removes skin cancer cells without leaving behind disfiguring scars. The impact that he’s had on his patients’ lives cannot be overstated. But, Dr. Cook’s patients did not end up in his waiting room because of suntans, and Duke Magazine shouldn’t make that connection.

Lewis Shender ’81  |  
Rancho Santa Fe, California

Shender is president and CEO of Hollywood Tans Group, second-largest provider of indoor-tanning services in the U.S.

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