FTC Settlement Stresses Health Risks of Tanning


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The Federal Trade Commission today announced a settlement with a California company that manufactures and markets "California Tan Heliotherapy" tanning products. According to the FTC, California SunCare, Inc. made false and unsubstantiated claims that moderate exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun and in indoor tanning salons is not harmful -- and, indeed, provides many health benefits -- and that users of the company's products can reap these benefits while avoiding the dangers of burning and overexposure.

In agreeing to settle the Commission's charges, California SunCare agreed to make certain disclosures in future ads and labeling, cautioning consumers that tanning even without burning can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. The disclosure must be made in certain advertising until the company has spent $1.5 million disseminating ads with the disclosure to consumers.

"False or unsupported claims about health and safety are of particular concern to the FTC," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "In this case, the company's advertising claims were directly contrary to the conclusion of scientists and public health officials -- that tanning, and not just burning, can cause skin damage, including skin cancer. The messages the company agreed to in this case will caution consumers as to the potential harms of tanning."

California SunCare is a privately-held company based in Los Angeles. Donald J. Christal, the company's President and CEO, is also cited in the FTC complaint. The company markets most of its tanning products under the brand name "California Tan Heliotherapy." The Heliotherapy products at issue in this case are lotions, oils and gels used in tanning, and do not provide sunscreen protection. They are sold primarily at indoor tanning salons.

According to the FTC's complaint detailing the charges in this case, California SunCare and Christal advertised the Heliotherapy products through brochures, magazine ads and on product labels, among other ways. The complaint alleges that the company made certain false claims about the safety of moderate exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and in indoor tanning salons (UV radiation), and the benefits of their products, including claims that:

  • the negative effects of UV radiation, including skin cancer and premature skin aging, are caused only by overexposure and burning, and not by tanning from moderate exposure over a period of years;
  • tanning is not harmful to the skin;
  • UV radiation reduces the risk of skin cancer; and
  • the Heliotherapy products prevent or minimize the negative effects of UV exposure.

The Commission also alleged that the company lacked a reasonable basis for various claims they made about the purported health benefits of UV radiation, including claims that it:

  • prevents or reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer and, for the general population, bone disorders such as osteoporosis;
  • lowers elevated blood pressure and serum cholesterol;
  • effectively treats AIDS and Seasonal Affective Disorder; and
  • enhances the immune system.

In addition, the Commission charged that the company’s claims that these health benefits are demonstrated by scientific studies, and that the American Medical Association endorses UV exposure as an effective medical treatment, are false. Finally, the complaint alleges that claims about the better tanning results provided by certain Heliotherapy products were unsubstantiated.

Under the proposed consent agreement to settle these allegations, announced today for public comment, California SunCare and Christal would be prohibited from claiming that the harms of UV radiation are caused not by moderate exposure, but only by overexposure and burning; that tanning is not harmful to the skin; and that UV radiation reduces the risk of skin cancer. The company would also be prohibited from misrepresenting that use of any tanning product prevents or minimizes the negative effects of UV exposure.

The agreement would also require that the company and Christal have scientific substantiation for any claims for any tanning product or service about the health benefits of UV exposure (including the specific health benefit claims cited in the complaint); the ability of the product or service to prevent or minimize the harms of UV exposure or to improve tanning results; or about the product or service's performance, safety, benefits or efficacy. They would also be prohibited from misrepresenting any tests or studies or any endorsements of their products. They would further be required to send a letter to each of their customers who resell the products to the public (such as distributors or retailers), summarizing the Commission's action and advising recipients to discontinue use of promotional materials that contain the challenged claims.

Finally, the company would be required to place a prominent cautionary statement in future advertising and labeling for their tanning products. The advertising statement would read as follows: "CAUTION: Tanning in sunlight or under tanning lamps can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging -- even if you don't burn." The labeling statement would also include the sentence, on some products, that "This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn." The advertising disclosure must be included in all non-sunscreen tanning product advertising (other than television ads, billboards or certain publications for salon operators) until respondents have spent $1.5 million in dissemination costs. Thereafter, the company must include a similar disclosure in all advertising for its tanning products, and on product labels for its non-sunscreen tanning products, that make any claim about the safety or health benefits of UV exposure.

The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement for public comment was 5-0 with Commissioner Roscoe B. Starek, III concurring in part and dissenting as to the order’s “untriggered” advertising disclosure. Commissioner Starek commented that although the consent agreement for the most part provides appropriate relief for the extremely serious alleged claims, the untriggered disclosure constitutes corrective advertising and he was not convinced that the evidence presented in this case meets the demanding standard that the Commission applies to corrective advertising. Starek concluded his statement by saying that by accepting the untriggered disclosure, “...the Commission is coming perilously close to lowering its standard for imposing corrective advertising by erasing the already blurred dividing line between that form of fencing-in relief and affirmative disclosures. Such a change is one that I cannot endorse.”

A summary describing the consent agreement, as well as the full text of Commissioner Starek’s statement, will appear in the Federal Register shortly and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make them final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.

NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries

the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $10,000.

The FTC has a brochure “Sunscreens” that is available free to consumers. Copies of the brochure, the complaint, proposed consent agreements and analysis of the agreement to assist the public in commenting on these cases are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-3627. FTC documents are also available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC’s NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.

Victoria Streitfeld

Office of Public Affairs

Bureau of Consumer Protection
Joel Winston or Toby Milgrom Levin,

202-326-3153 or 326-3156

(FTC File No. 942-3218)

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