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Giving medical advice is sometimes a matter of perspective

Be careful about describing experiences you haven't had yourself, columnist writes
BY ANTHONY KOMAROFF Published: May 22, 2012

(In fact, a new study here at Harvard Medical School was published just after my column. Based on 20 years' experience in 730,000 nurses, it strongly supports the dangers.)

However, I concluded by saying: “If (your daughter) really wants a tanned look, suggest using artificial tanners ... But if prom night is a few days away, and she's still not happy with what she sees in the mirror, a single visit to the tanning salon is not the end of the world.”

Another reader, who had lost a member of her family to melanoma, said that it was “completely irresponsible” for me to countenance even a single visit to a tanning salon.

I understand why she would feel that way, and I agree with her that a single visit can be the first step on a slippery slope to regular use, unless parents intervene.

But I don't know of any evidence that a single visit to a tanning salon raises the risk of skin cancers.

It's a matter of perspective. Not every behavior that is risky if you do it regularly is risky if you do it only occasionally.

Dr. Anthony Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.