‘NHS-BACKED UP STUDY’ used to endorse SUNBEDS – WHAT?

January to March is said to be ‘PEAK SEASON’ for sunbeds. Why? Well, according to newspapers, it’s that time of year when ‘people are trying to get rid of that winter pallor or prepare for a holiday’.

After some research and my undercover subscribing to various salons over the last couple of years, I somewhat disagree.

My email inbox pings AT LEAST EVERY week from the big sunbed franchises, and in some cases twice a day. This, of course, seems to happen more between January and March. During ‘off peak’ times (November?), a fortnight can pass by without a PING. So, I’m not sure customers are entirely responsible for the popularity of sunbeds during this particular period (but then again it could be a chicken and egg scenario!?).


‘DON’T BE PALE AND PASTY’/ ‘YOLO – YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE’ 

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OR … ‘DON’T BE A GHOST’ /  ‘IS YOUR TAN READY?’


So, as you can see, there goes the first fire of emails – what I call THE NUDGE. Allowing THE COMPARISON (comparisons being noted as one of the best ways to develop unhealthy self-criticism and depression). At this point, individuals may be idolising the conventional portrayal of what we apparently think is aesthetically desirable. Often a young girl/women in a beach setting, under a YOLO sign. Usually in a vibrant and colourful bikini emphasising the tan (apart from the ‘Halloween specials’). UNFAILINGLY with her arms stretched out over her head, arching her tanned body into our central eye point, invitingly open and coquettish.

(Note: men are also targeted in these adverts – but usually on public displays outside salons. Also, I had to fill in a very long form in-store about my personal details, so maybe they know I’m a woman? Or maybe men are less likely to stand inside for 20 minutes filling in this form, to then be bombarded by every media platform that they had to sign up through!?)

Anyhow, after THE NUDGE and THE COMPARISON, THE SOLUTION/REVELATION appears. ‘LUCKY YOU’ – normally framed between ‘£££’ signs. This will ‘SAVE YOUR SUMMER’.


‘(BIG) ££s off 100 Minute packages’ and ‘FREE tanning session for you’ …

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OR ‘THIS EMAIL WILL SAVE YOUR SUMMER… Look hot for summer’.


Now, these emails never surprise me – they copy other emails about diet routines, exercises, and general cosmetics (‘SIMPLE (and cheap) WAYS TO REMOVE YOUR WRINKLES’ or ‘HOW TO REMOVE BELLY FLAB IN 3 EASY WAYS’). But you can imagine my shock when this appeared….


‘MAJOR NEW NHS-BACKED UP STUDY’.

Screenshot 2017-03-15 13.25.56


An NHS study being used to promote sunbeds? What? How? When I clicked on the email I couldn’t find any links or evidence. It was just an empty grey claim so I ignored it. We can be gullible and impressionable, but most of us are aware of bold claims and advertising scams. But then the next day this appeared….


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‘A Professor’? ‘Lead researcher’? ‘NHS Choices’? ‘UV light’, so commercial sunbeds improve health, not medically controlled UV sources? ‘Most effective way to promote Vitamin D’? ‘Efficient’?

…. Really? And then an exploration began …


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I tried to critically assess each paragraph, ‘graph’, bold statement and their references.

Before I begin, my aim is not to criticise or negate sunbed consumption, or medical researchers, or the tanning industry. I am a historian. Not a medical expert. My friends know I love the sun (I  was returning from a sunny walk through Jephson’s gardens when I wrote most of this yesterday)

Also, here is the NHS backed up story. But let me summarise. There is absolutely no mention of an increase in sun exposure, never mind sunbeds…. and in the Telegraph article, WE NEED VITAMIN D FROM FOOD.

As for Dr Mercola, she does not say ‘USE SUNBEDS to improve your Vitamin D’. Most of the time she speaks about natural sunlight. And when she mentions UV ‘blue light’ she speaks about it in a medical context. To cure TB. And MS. Even Hypomethylation (which affects African American teens who aren’t as likely to use sunbeds). And other medical conditions. Conditions that are less likely to affect young white girls and women, or middle to upper-class sunbed users in Britain. Also, I don’t think the majority of those who are suffering from severe Vitamin D deficiency (usually obtained through a ‘good’ diet) are going to spend their money on artificial tanning. Plus, Dr Mercola says those who avoid ‘sun exposure’ are more likely to suffer mortality and illness. Not those who avoid sunbeds.

And then. Wait a minute. Close to the end of the very long online article (which most people who received The Tanning Shop email won’t get to), there are two paragraphs discussing the ‘important risk factor for melanoma … from … tanning beds/lamps’. ….  ….. DON’T FRY YOURSELF.


Screenshot 2017-03-13 09.08.38


Fascinatingly whenever I clicked on the links in the email, hoping it would lead to more information on their website I just got this …

Screenshot 2017-03-12 23.14.58
(the page linked to the email on the 12th March 2017)

What was interesting was the resemblance of these adverts and the Telegraph‘s Vitamin D ‘science claims’ to the smoking ones since the early 20th century. Writing to both men and women, a physician in the national press stated that women caught colds more easily than men because they didn’t smoke …. plus various other claims about smoking improving digestion, energy, ‘FITNESS’, mental health …

IMG_0726
From Penny Tinkler‘s Smoke Signals: Women, Smoking and Visual Culture, p.89

This was also a fascinating resemblance to Rima Apple’s book, which largely discusses Vitamin. Since the late 1920s adverts targeted middle-class women, claiming that their households (young children) were deficient of Vitamin D, however those who could afford Vitamin D tablets were unlikely to be suffering from Vitamin deficiency.

IMG_0711
From Rima Apple‘s Vitamina, p.24

The irony was that as I was trying to do a literature review on the changes in advertising (new audio-visual cultures) this advert popped up …..

Screenshot 2017-03-08 11.28.14

Now, this may be over dramatic but let’s leave this here as food for thought… Are our consumption habits entirely dependent on our individual decisions (‘I have a holiday in late Easter so let’s use a sunbed’), or by the subliminal messages that are everywhere, constantly nudging us, influencing us to compare ourselves, and then offering us a ‘solution‘ – the revelation? The deals, discounts encouraging a ‘natural’ and a ‘necessary’ consumption … backed up by the NHS, obviously….

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