A Philosopher's Blog

Tanning Beds

Posted in Business, Ethics, Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2008

Tanning Bed

While the sun provides free tanning, it is not always reliable. This is why people often turn to tanning beds.  When I first heard of tanning beds (or “fake bakes” as they were called), they struck me as a bad idea. My view was supported by various tanning bed horror stories told to me by one of my grad school roommates. She was a nurse, so she had first hand experience with the various negative consequences of tanning beds.

While the dangers of skin cancer have been well publicized, people continue to use tanning beds. Part of this is due to the fact that the tanned look has remained popular and is considered a sexy look.  This has not always been the case. Many years ago, the pale look was considered the proper look for white women. Another part of the reason is that the Indoor Tanning Association has been conducting a pro-tanning ad campaign. The campaign addresses the health concerns about tanning by making use of findings about vitamin D. As has long been known, the body will naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is rather important and has various health benefits.

However, what the ITA campaign fails to mention is that a person can get enough sunlight to generate an adequate amount of vitamin D fairly quickly.  For pale people, the needed exposure time is about 10 minutes. People with darker skin will need about twenty minutes. Further, people can get vitamin D via dietary supplements or as part of food. For people living in areas with inadequate natural sunlight, tanning beds can provide a means of getting UV light. However, for most people the tanning bed is not a good choice. It can also present a health danger. The main danger is, of course, skin cancer.

Skin cancer cases have been increasing since the 1970s. Part of this is due to changing behavior and dress, part is also due to environmental changes and part seems to be due to tanning beds.

The prime demographic for tanning beds are 15-29 year old females and this group has a larger incidence of skin cancer than males of the same age. Dr. Anir Dhir, a dermatologist in Lexington, Kentucky notes that of the  800 cases of melanoma he has treated, “60 of them were in women younger than 30 years old, and all of them were avid tanning-bed users.” Newsweek, March 19 These findings are typical, thus indicating a connection between tanning beds and cancer. This is hardly surprising. It has been established that UV exposure is a causal factor in skin cancer and tanning beds expose people to UV radiation.

It might be wondered why tanning beds are still legal, given that they seem to be clearly a threat to health. The answer is the same as for tobacco-money and organization. The indoor tanning industry brings in about $5 billion a year and has the well organized ITA to fend off attacks.

As with tobacco, most users of tanning beds know that what they are doing is risky. The attitude of many people is best expressed by  Alex Lloyd. She goes to the tanning salon five days each week. She is aware of the risk, but ignores it. In her words: “A lot of people tell me I do it too much, blah, blah, blah. But I just don’t care.” Newsweek, March 19.

From a moral and health standpoint, it seems that she is making the wrong choice in not caring. After all, she is intentionally putting her health at risk in return for merely having a tan. That seems to be rather irrational. It also seems immoral for the tanning salon to provide her with the means to hurt herself.

Of course, it can be argued that people should have the right to harm themselves if they are aware of the risks and accept them. After all, people are allowed to smoke, drink, drive cars, and so on and these activities all put people at risk. While it seems foolish to risk somethings so serious (skin cancer) for something so frivolous (a tan), the freedom to do stupid things seems to be an unavoidable part of freedom. As such, people should be allowed to go to tanning beds.

This, as noted above, assumes that the people are making an informed stupid choice. The ITA seems to be somewhat deceptive in its ad campaign. While it is true that UV radiation does enable the body to create vitamin D, exposure to UV radiation also has serious health risks. To downplay these risks is morally unacceptable and the ITA should be honest about the risks. Natural enough, they can appeal to the fact that almost all advertising campaigns are (by their very nature) acts of deceit, downplaying and so forth. However, the mere fact that everyone does such things hardly makes it right-this is an appeal to common practice.

In sum, it is acceptable for people to use tanning beds, provided that they are informed of the risks they are taking. ITA’s ad campaign does seem to be immoral in that it is trying to get people to engage in a harmful activity by means of what could be regarded as deception.


24 Responses

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  1. John said, on May 23, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    “Dr. Anir Dhir, a dermatologist in Lexington, Kentucky notes that of the 800 cases of melanoma he has treated, “60 of them were in women younger than 30 years old, and all of them were avid tanning-bed users.” Newsweek, March 19 These findings are typical, thus indicating a connection between tanning beds and cancer.”

    The what now? 60 out of 800? That makes a connection? 7.5% of those cases makes a connection? Ugh. So I guess if the other 740 used Jergens moisturizer on a regular basis that would mean Jergens causes cancer?

    Time for some further info, try visiting http://www.uvtalk.com

  2. Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    When dealing with numbers, it is important to consider them in the correct manner.

    As you point out, if only 60 people out of 800 melanoma victims used tanning beds, then that would not show a clear causal link. After all, it might just be a matter of chance.

    But, what matters in this case are the critical facts about the 60. The critical facts are that the 60 were 1) under 30, 2) used tanning beds and 3) had melanoma. These facts combine to provide good grounds for suspecting that the tanning beds area causal factor.

    Of course, it is easy to make the link:
    1. UV radiation has been causally linked to melanoma in terms of causation in populations (this means that if all people were exposed to UV, then there would be more cases of melanoma then if none were).
    2. Tanning beds radiate UV radiation.
    3. Therefore, tanning beds can cause melanoma.

    Naturally, there is the question of how strong the causal connection between tanning beds and cancer actually is. After all, not everyone who uses them gets melanoma.

    Even if the causal connection is weak, there is still the question of whether the risk is worth it and whether it is morally acceptable to profit from something that can hurt people.

  3. carol said, on May 23, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    But out of those numbers, how many also tanned outdoors and used sunscreens?
    You know they do, but it is never mentioned. Only the tanning salons.

  4. Sophie said, on May 24, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    It is interesting that in many cases, even there’s warnings from professionals, people still doing something which might hurt themselves or cost their lifes. The tanning bed is one of them. Smoking, drinking and so on. A more relevant case, exterme diet. Now and then, there’re young girls, some of them were models, got very sick or die for it. Why do those people, especially girls, willing to risk their health or lifes to have themselves more fit the criteria of sexiness and beauty of the society?

  5. eileen said, on May 25, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    This blog lacks scientific facts and links to sources. It is nothing more then one’s opinion only that most likely profits from selling sunscreen IMHO. Tanning and burning are not the same. Provide something other then opinion that has found that tanning causes melanoma. Goodluck…. I can find you a link to a scientific study where tanning increases your P53’s to protect you from melanoma. Read all of this and go get yourself a moderate tan year round. Get over your idea of just listening to Dermatologists that make 35 billion dollars a year selling you sunscreen that will block your Vitamin D. I tan for my health, get over it and please try to get me to stop drinking diet pepsi….that is my bad habit I can’t seem to kick not tanning! LOL Here is your link to an article to further educate yourselves: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/64893.php

  6. Jim said, on May 26, 2008 at 12:31 am

    “… of the 800 cases of melanoma he has treated, “60 of them were in women younger than 30 years old, and all of them were avid tanning-bed users.”

    Of the 800 cases, how many patients had a family history of skin cancer?

    The number one precursor for skin cancer is genetic.

    There is no scientific medical study that has found a direct causal relationship between tanning bed use and melanoma skin cancer. Not one!

    When will reporters get the simple fact that anecdotal information i not scientific and no causal relationship can be derived from it?

    Suggested reading: http://www.sunlightscam.com/

  7. Michael LaBossiere said, on May 26, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    In reply to the above comments:
    1) I don’t sell sun tan lotion. I’m a philosophy professor. I’d suggest using it, however.
    2) Here are some links to research on UV radiation and cancer:





  8. Unconquerable said, on June 19, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Unconquerable!

  9. Ed Staskus said, on July 30, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Dermatologists, even in Kentucky, know that UV probably does not cause melanoma, since melanoma is most often found on parts of the body not normally exposed to sunlight. Most studies have found that occupational exposure to sunlight decreases the chances of developing melanoma. UV can and does cause basil and squamous skin cancer.
    Sunlight, or UV, is not tobacco, so that was an invidious comparison, as was a lot of the reasoning throughout. Words need not be connected to the real world, obviously, but it helps when they are subordinated to real ideas.

  10. Michael LaBossiere said, on July 31, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Even though melanoma can occur on areas of the body not normally exposed to sunlight, it does not follow that UV radiation is not a causal factor. After all, it is not claimed that UV exposure is a necessary cause of melanoma (such that one cannot have melanoma without UV exposure). UV seems to be well established as a causal factor in increasing a person’s risk of melanoma which is grounds enough for concern. This is like smoking. Smoking is not a necessary cause of lung cancer, but it is a causal factor.

    As far as UV radiation and cancer, see (for example) http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/content/full/64/18/6372

    Sunlight is obviously not tobacco, but the comparison I made was not between the two.

  11. Mike Rozos said, on August 5, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Funny, but a girl at work mentioned buying a tanning bed yesterday.

    I told her it seemed redneck. She asked me why I perceived tanning beds as being redneck. Then she admitted to being quite a redneck herself, so I said that helped my correlation. Then I asked her if she knew any non rednecks with tanning beds.

    She said no, but only because everyone she knew was a redneck!

  12. Michael LaBossiere said, on August 6, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Everyone she knows is a redneck.
    She knows you.
    Therefore, you are a redneck.

    The logic is inescapable, so you must by a tanning bed. I’d suggest the Southern Fryer Deluxe (cooks one person, two hogs, or a hell of a lot of hot dogs).

  13. Michelle Malkin » PDS Alert: Us Weekly and friends are at it again said, on September 16, 2008 at 3:27 am

    […] they be more out of touch? Tanning beds have long been derided as “white trash” and […]

  14. […] they be more out of touch? Tanning beds have long been derided as “white trash” and […]

  15. AlexD said, on September 16, 2008 at 8:59 am

    “In sum, it is acceptable for people to use tanning beds, provided that they are informed of the risks they are taking.”

    Wow, the people are now relieved that some blowhard declared it’s acceptable for them to use tanning beds (provided they are informed, of course, if not i guess it should be illegal to use one)…mind your own business will ya

  16. Michael LaBossiere said, on September 16, 2008 at 12:27 pm


    I think you are missing my point. I’m not saying that people need my permission to use tanning beds. I’m pro-liberty, so I think people should do what they want, provided that they are not causing harm to others. This includes doing stupid things, too.

    My point is that as long as people are informed about the risks, then it is morally acceptable to use them. If people used them without knowing the risks, then that would be wrong. The same is true of tobacco products. As long as people know that they are using a dangerous product, then they should have the freedom to chose to use it. If they are not told about the risks, the manufacturers would be doing something clearly wrong: exposing people to danger without giving the information they need to make a reasonable choice.

    While I think some choices are damn stupid, people should have the freedom to make them. As a whole, we are better off allowing more choice than less. The price for this is that people get to chose things that they would be better off not choosing. But, like love, sometimes freedom is a hurting thing.

    Naturally, I don’t appreciate being called a blow hard. I make an effort to consider alternative views and make a reasonable case. I don’t inflict my views on others and encourage people to present dissenting views. That seems quite the opposite of being a blowhard. Thanks for reading.

  17. Writomania said, on September 25, 2009 at 9:10 am

    A good insight about the positives of using a tanning bed but obvious things is that, one has got 90% chances of becoming a victim of skin cancer due to them. This is the figure given by Tanning Statistical association

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 25, 2009 at 11:02 am

      The cancer thing is yet another reason to be careful about them. Although, as Magnus says, a 90% chance of getting cancer seems rather high. After all, that would mean that of every 100 folks tanning, 90 would have cancer. While tanning beds (and sun exposure) boost the chances of getting cancer, it is hard to imagine the rate being that high.

    • magus71 said, on September 25, 2009 at 11:56 am

      Sigh. I have to step in–yet again–and point out some serious truth issues; that 90% seemed like a rather high number to me. And the name: Tanning Statistical Association seemed rather dubious, too. So I googled it. As far as I can tell it doesn’t exist. An association that exsts merely to gather stats on tanning. Hmmm.

      Prove me wrong, Writomania.

      I should get paid to do this.

  18. commercialtanningbeds said, on November 3, 2009 at 5:55 am


    Thanks for sharing information. I have my own blog on tannin beds. People have wrong thinking on tanning beds. Tanning bed is really good for health. It can cause cancer also.Purchase tanning beds from http://www.commercialtanningbeds.net/


  19. Jessica said, on December 17, 2009 at 5:35 am

    Yeah, a lot of people are now using tanning beds and this means that it is safe as long as you know how to properly use it. Ask the help of professional tanners or simply read the manual carefully.

  20. Baspmaymn said, on February 14, 2010 at 8:35 am

    hey guys! i’m budding here. my name’s morgan and i’m from Portland.

    i like baking and baking friends. oops i mean making. hahah.

    umm i want to create new friends! hopefully a true strong people like johnny bravo to
    sweep me off of my feet and pick me up and shake me like a baby! (…just kidding!)
    i reckon i like watching movie trailers more than i like watching movies
    and i wish that people would condense all movies to 3 minutes on youtube.

    if you hope for to give me a back massage i can pay you back in jellybeans or uh.. nevermind.. i can pay you in jellybeans ONLY.

    i’m a gorgeous shapely person. i don’t worry about anything. except for myself.

    it’s freezing here during the winter and most of the year, so how does a compact minor lady stay|presentable?

    i only just get to go outside so i use spray tan. it works like demonic magic and it covers up whiteness.
    so don’t worry my flushed cheek friends (you don’t have to lie and say that you put on too much blush anymore!) well anyway.
    i have planned boys swooning across me and let me tell ya.. i’m running| out of jellybeans 😉 😉 sooooooooooooo

  21. Boston Tanning Salons said, on August 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I recently started going to tanning salons. Why not get a spray on tan instead of using a bed? Wouldn’t that be a lot better?

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