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I believe it is fair to say that a section of the UK’s media is pretty well globally renowned for its often malicious and disingenuous coverage of a whole raft of subjects and individuals. Over the years, tanning beds have been an easy target for this media segment with people willing to sell their story for a quick buck and so-called reporters (I refuse to besmirch the profession by calling them journalists) appearing to simply file a copy without any subject knowledge or fact-checking.
I believe it is imperative that we as an industry continue challenging the media to do their jobs properly.
So as sure as night follows day, around the start of each year’s tanning season, it is a given that we will see a number of alleged tanning bed case-study stories appearing in our tabloid media, sometimes in print but more often online. The obvious but frustrating fact is that without exception, any alleged claim of a causal relationship between responsible tanning bed use and a “skin cancer” diagnosis simply falls apart under scrutiny. Almost without exception, it is a self-diagnosis not backed up with any quote from or reference to a dermatologist or other medical professional that would represent the most basic due diligence. It would appear that quite simply, the reporter has met their filing deadline in a pressurised 24/7 news cycle and the “case-study” individual has pocketed some extra cash. Tomorrow’s another day and another story.
So what can, or indeed, should we as the professional indoor tanning industry be doing to address this?
On the one hand, you could say we do nothing. It really is very interesting to learn that in the UK, there is a significant number of first-time tanners coming into tanning salons post-pandemic and the reasons are varied. From a lack of opportunity to holiday abroad and the sometimes poor British weather, greater awareness of the benefits of regular UV exposure, desire to look and feel great, through to increased professionalism in our industry – whatever the reason, and it is probably a combination of more than just one – the fact is more people visited tanning salons in the UK in the first quarter of 2022 than they did in 2020, just before we went into our first pandemic lockdown.
On that basis, it could quite justifiably be said that overall, the general population simply does not relate to or even believe the case studies about tanning bed abuse that they see in the media as “the norm”: using a tanning bed every day or at least several times a week year-round, sunbathing without any or very little sun protection cream all day every day on holiday and at every chance at home. These people are sun abusers and absolutely not representative of the behaviour of the average person who enjoys tanning responsibly in a professional tanning salon.
Yet as an industry, we surely must challenge these individuals, or as I would prefer to say, educate them. However, therein lies a small hurdle and that is the anti-tanning lobby is often funding and/or supporting these case studies, as they provide a useful human and often emotional arrow for their poorly constructed bow. And there can be no doubt people often prefer or need to blame something or someone rather than looking to their own actions or behaviour and if that approach is being fuelled, it is a somewhat harder hill to climb for the tanning bed protagonist. Nevertheless, I believe it imperative to continue challenging the media to do their jobs properly by securing medical verification of case study claims prior to publication. Imagine if we could achieve this – that in itself would be the end to these ridiculous stories.
We have our ideas and we have our plans on this front and I have to say the initial response and reaction to them has been very exciting and very favourable indeed. It is time to change the narrative … watch this space!
In the tanning industry since 1982, Gary is Managing Director of the UK subsidiary of Ergoline, and runs Ergoline Plus, the exclusive distributor for a wide range of sunless products and spray systems. He is also Chairman of the Media Committee for the UK’s Sunbed Association & a European Sunlight Association member.
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