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Smart Tan Is Right: Ackerman

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

The research dermatologist largely credited for founding pathology procedures used in dermatology — dermatopathology — agrees with Smart Tan’s position that sunburn, not sun exposure, is the UV-related risk factor for melanoma and that over-the-top anti-UV messages are harmful.

“Smart Tan got it! But the Skin Cancer Foundation, like the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology, does not get it,” Ackerman writes in his book The Sun and the ‘Epidemic’ of Melanoma: Myth on Myth.

Ackerman, decorated by the American Academy of Dermatology with the group’s Master Dermatologist designation (its highest honor), is one of several dermatology leaders who take issue with dermatology organizations who attempt to characterize tans as damage. Tans are different fundamentally from sunburns, Ackerman points out. “A sunburn is pathologic, it calling forth redness at the least, ulcerations and scarring at worst, and blisters in between. A suntan is physiologic, the result of normal melanocytes at the dermoedidermal junctions producing more melanin for the epidermis, that dark pigment serving to protect against ultraviolet radiation.”

In his Myth on Myth book, Ackerman quotes Newcastle University Professor of Dermatology Dr. Sam Shuster, summing up tans as part of nature’s design: “The dogma, now fossilized in print, is that any tan is a sign of skin damage. Tell that to Darwin.”

Ackerman, who has more than 700 published papers and studies to his name in a career that dates back to 1962, founded the International Society of Dermatopathology and is founder and director emeritus of the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology, training pathology students on dermatology related work. He is an advocate of evidence-based medicine and has been highly critical of the dermatology industry’s over-blown, unsupported allegations that any and all sun exposure should be avoided.

He believes Smart Tan has done a better job advocating the whole truth about melanoma than the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society.

“Paradoxically, business sometimes is more academic than academe,” Ackerman says, citing this portion of Smart Tan’s Position:

“What about melanoma skin cancer? Melanoma is the only form of skin cancer that is aggressive with any regularity. But you need to understand this clearly: Melanoma skin cancer does not fit the mold of other skin cancers for the following reasons:

  • Melanoma is more common in people who work indoors than in those who work outdoors.
  • Melanoma most commonly appears on parts of the body that do not receive regular exposure to sunlight.
  • Heredity, fair skin, an abnormally high number of moles on one’s body (above 40) and a history of repeated childhood sunburns have all been implicated as potential risk factors for this disease. But because people who receive regular exposure to sunlight get fewer melanomas, blanket statements that ultraviolet light causes melanoma cannot be made. Indeed, some studies have found that an individual’s susceptibility to sunburn, and not the actual sunburn incidence itself, is the risk factor. Further, most studies on indoor tanning have not shown a statistically significant connection between commercial use of tanning equipment and an increased risk of melanoma.

That is important, considering that most of the studies did not account for confounding variables such as outdoor exposure to sunlight, childhood sunburns, type of tanning equipment utilized and duration and quantity of exposures. So the professional indoor tanning industry is doing its part to help individuals of all skin types minimize their risks by teaching them how to avoid sunburn at all costs. We are promoting smart, moderate tanning for those individuals who can promote a tan.”

Of Smart Tan’s position Ackerman writes, “Smart Tan got it! But the Skin Cancer Foundation, like the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology, does not get it.”

Ackerman slams those groups for taking money from sunscreen manufacturers in exchange for their endorsement of those manufacturers’ products — a relationship he believes compromises dermatology’s academic integrity.


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