A STUDY THAT SHINES
LIGHT ON THE GULLIBLE
By Gary Lipman
42 DECEMBER 2011 | i s l a n d s u n t i m e s . c o m
Column | UK View
Over the years, I have developed a
thick skin (no pun intended) when it
comes to media coverage of sunbeds.
Our tabloid press has undoubtedly
played a large part in this, although
our quality media has also had its
part to play.
Good news stories are hard to come by
in the media. Indeed, I heard a very interesting
radio interview recently, during
which Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s
Director of Communications and Strategy
during his time as Prime Minister, discussed
his view of the British media. He
explained how the 24/7 nature of the
media had shifted the appetite of viewers,
readers and listeners. Whereas, in years
gone by, for every three “bad” stories there
was one “good” one, today the statistic is
18/1! Given the current economic gloom
pervading all corridors of society, I certainly
think the media is missing a trick in
not adjusting these odds to help raise the
nation’s spirits. I am sure the same could
be said for the U.S.
Another alarming fact is the media’s
apparent inability to question the
validity of information provided by
certain elements of our society. In this
context, tanning beds have had their reputation
at the mercy of Joe Public seeking
their 15-minutes of fame with stories that
simply cannot be substantiated, as well
as members of the medical and scientific
communities looking to equally boost their
profile and perhaps raise awareness of
“issues” that would certainly suit some
sponsors of their anti-tanning research.
Could it be that the pernicious culture
of spin and deception, which has ruined
our belief in politicians, has now infected
the world of science? A point in case was
a recent study by Professor Antony Young,
a researcher at King’s College London,
which had looked into the effect of UVA
on the skin. The abstract of the study gave
no reference at all to tanning beds, yet the
headline in one of our leading newspapers
read “New Sunbed Alert: UV Rays Penetrate
Far Deeper into the Skin than Previously
Thought” Professor Young was later
quoted in the report saying,
“Tanning salons still tend
to claim that UVA is safe
but that’s nonsense.”
There is no doubt that
Professor Young had used
tanning beds as a hook to
gain media attention for this study. And
clearly his approach worked!
I was also interviewed by the journalist
who wrote the piece and even she agreed
it was odd that there was no mention of
tanning beds in the study’s abstract, yet Professor
Young had introduced the tanning
bed reference when she interviewed him.
I have do doubt his comments encouraged
the negative tanning bed headline and the
inaccurate tanning bed statistics (regularly
used by the media) that peppered the rest
of the story.
This story gained quite widespread
coverage, particularly on the Internet yet,
in my opinion, it was such a poor piece of
1. It had a total sample of just 12 individuals
and the “research programme”
lasted a total of just 62 hours!
2. The total sample of 12 people were
all Skin Type 1 – i.e. at highest risk of photodamage. So, how relevant or appropriate
is it, therefore, to connect the limited researching
findings to Skin Types 2-6 (i.e.
the majority of the population)?
3. Those with Skin Type 1 are not
allowed to use tanning beds nor should
they sunbathe, as they will not tan.
4. The findings of the study showed that
in all cases, any DNA changes caused by
the UVA exposure disappeared after 48
hours – i.e. the body repaired itself.
5. A number of recent studies have
shown that tanning reduces the risk of
And if this wasn’t enough to challenge
the efficacy of the research, the
story quoted Professor Young as claiming
“people do not put on nearly enough lotion
[SPF]”. On checking the research paper,
it declared that one of the funders of this
research was the British Skin Foundation,
which has SPF manufacturers amongst
their list of sponsors. Anyone think there’s a conflict of interest?