Avoid Health Claims in Your Client Communications

The topic of health claims has become newsworthy of late because of the recent actions of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Last year, several New York tanning businesses reached settlements with the Attorney General after being accused of making misleading health claims, many of which appeared on the businesses’ websites or social media accounts. It’s a good reminder that the laws in many states leave room for interpretation, and you should approach your customer communications accordingly.

Despite the recent legal action against indoor tanning businesses, many within the industry still hold misconceptions about what they can and can’t say to their clients, particularly in online communications. The confusion is not surprising, as some gray areas exist within the laws governing the issue. Given that subjectivity, it’s a good idea for all indoor tanning businesses to be exceedingly cautious about what they say, both in the salon and in external communications.

Some salon owners believe that they can post information touting the health benefits of UV light, especially if it comes from third-party sources. They believe that unless they are promoting health benefits derived from indoor tanning equipment, that there’s no problem with the message. Or they believe that since the message isn’t coming directly from the salon business, there’s no problem. But the Federal Trade Commission and most state Attorneys General disagree.

If a message from your business suggests or implies that there may be health benefits from the sun or UV light, you are breaking the law regardless of whether the message came from you directly or from another source. Remember, you are selling UV light sessions. Therefore, the government considers that you are misleading the public to believe there are health benefits from your UV-emitting devices, regardless of where the message originated.

It is also important not to downplay the risks associated with UV light and sunbeds. Suggesting that sunbed risks are overstated or that skin cancer risks are only for certain skin types or for those who sunburn could be construed as misleading. It’s also important that you include disclaimer language about sunbeds on your website or other communication venues. Here’s an example of language to consider:

“NOTICE: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin damage and skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury.”

The subject of discussing vitamin D is less clear. For example, Texas courts have ruled that even saying that sunbeds induce vitamin D production is impermissible, despite there being plenty of research to support that statement. Yet some salons believe that it is an obligation to alert their customers of the potential biological impact of your services including skin cancer risks and increased vitamin D blood levels.

Because it is not entirely clear how government regulators might view language regarding vitamin D, the conservative route would be to completely avoid making statements about it. However, if you do decide to state that your equipment produces vitamin D, you may want to add appropriate disclaimer language. Here is a statement by the FTC as part of a settlement they made with an industry group who promoted the market using vitamin D related statements:

Ads that claim exposure to ultraviolet radiation produces vitamin D in the body, or make other claims about the effectiveness or usefulness of indoor tanning products or services for the body’s generation of vitamin D, must clearly and prominently make this disclosure:

“NOTICE: You do not need to become tan for your skin to make vitamin D. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury.”

To avoid any potential conflicts with these government groups, it always safest to avoid any language regarding vitamin D or UV benefits.

If you have any questions about what you can and cannot say in your salon communications, please contact the ASA at info@americansuntanning.org or 855-879-7678.