Correcting the Record on Sunburn: One ASA Success Story

by Sun City

The professional tanning community can
take pride in the fact that when we do our
jobs correctly, we are part of the solution
– not part of the problem – in the fight
against sunburn.
NOW more than ever, the data tell that story. Non-tanners
do most of the sunburning outside today, according to the
government’s data.
In promoting our responsible story to legislators nationwide,
I still occasionally stumble across anti-sun groups who quote
a 2014 study asking the public to believe that sunbeds cause
3,234 emergency room visits per year in the United States.
ASA debunked this in 2015. It’s worth re-telling how ridiculous
that bogus statistic was.
That’s because 3,234 wasn’t a real number. It was a
manufactured number. And as you look closer and closer at
the math used to create it, you have to wonder how it ever got
published. Consider:
• The raw data came from just 405 ER reports collected
between 2003-2012 in 66 hospitals nationwide. That’s less
than 41 per year, which is much less than one emergency
room visit per year per hospital related to sunbeds.
• The raw data came from a database that doesn’t even
collect information about sunbeds — the researchers had
to mine through a subset of a public database to produce
their own set of 405 reports. They did not release this subset
database nor report the details of how they created it.
• The raw data in the same database suggest that “laundry
baskets” were related to about seven times more injuries
as compared to sunbeds. Sunbeds would rank dead last in
relative risk among the items listed in the database.
• The raw data show that ER reports in 2012 declined more
than three-fold from the number collected in 2003. That
should have been the lead point — that sunburn from sunbeds
was very rare and was significantly less common than it was a
generation ago.
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Perhaps most significant: The report did not isolate tanning
salons, but rather manufactured data from sunbeds used
either “at home” or in a “public property/place.” That’s where it
gets really interesting.
• If every sunbed in that “public property/place” category
was in a tanning salon (which is unlikely — many were
unmonitored sunbeds in apartment complexes or gyms)
that translates into an ER injury rate of just 0.00000345 — or
just over three-ten-thousandths of one percent for all public
sunbeds in 2012.
• But since "public property/place" is not just tanning
salons — and tanning salons may be the minority of sunbeds
in that group — that means the ER injury rate at tanning
salons would be somewhere between zero and three-ten-
thousandths of one percent.
And that’s why (almost) no one quotes this number anymore.
And it’s why when they do, ASA has been able to nip it in
the bud.
That’s the kind of thing we do every day promoting a
responsible sun care message. And why as a life-long
defender of moderate UV exposure, I look at this as a
challenge for the real pros in the professional suntanning
market to up our sunburn-prevention game. It’s part of our
success story.
Thank you for supporting ASA’s efforts
to bring this forward. It’s one small part
of our success story.

Joseph Levy
Executive Director and Director of Scientific
Affairs, American Suntanning Association