An article in The Times of India reports that a leading oncologist now claims that “women who regularly sunbathe tend to live longer.” Professor Hakan Olsson of Lund University in Sweden, said, “Vitamin D produced by the body while tanning gives vital protection against blood clots, diabetes and some tumours,” and that the health benefits of tanning “far outweigh” the danger of skin cancer.
I don’t want to sound cynical, but I find that last statement hard to believe. I know I am biased on the subject, as the daughter of a fair-skinned Irish mother who has had skin cancer and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the subject, and as the granddaughter of someone who has suffered with skin cancer for many years. In addition, two grandmothers in our neighborhood have died recently because of melanoma. I know more about skin cancer and the dangers of tanning than the average person, because of its impact on my life, and that could be why I don’t find this study to prove anything groundbreaking. We already knew you receive vitamin D from the sun, but you can also get a daily dosage of vitamin D a day by simply taking a multivitamin and not wearing sunscreen on your hands and going outside for 15 minutes a day. There’s no reason a person needs to fry his or her skin in order to reap vitamin D benefits; the same benefits can be reaped without tanning, and without risking one’s health to skin cancer. I also find the statements made by Professor Olsson to be irresponsible, especially to young people. Many people love the look of a tan, and would use any excuse to justify going tanning or laying out; a study like this will help them further justify getting a tan. People do get vitamin D from the sun, yes, but there’s no reason they need to get a tan in order to receive vitamin D. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime, and I think researchers need to be a little more careful about making a sloppy correlation between tanning and health benefits.
I know one group of people who will be heartened by this new study (Jersey Shore), but I suspect the risk of death by skin cancer wasn’t enough to deter them in the first place.