One of the first things people notice about me is at least my fair skin.
Deceptively, my skin is something that I am very proud to be pale for cosmetic and health. What you cannot see just by looking at me, however, is that I have had fibromyalgia for a decade.
Fair skin and fibromyalgia may not seem to be related – I probably never correlated the two – but a recent study has a handful of experts connecting these unassociated external points.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that can cause seemingly endless musculoskeletal pain, which I know all too well. Although millions of people, mostly women, have been diagnosed, many of us have not found enough relief from the most commonly recommended medications and physical therapies. Some have turned to alternatives, but few seem as risky as the treatment studied by researchers at Wake Forest University.
A team of rheumatologists and dermatologists followed 19 patients with fibromyalgia while they were using tanning beds three times a week for six weeks. The volunteers were divided into two groups: a group exposed to ultraviolet rays and a group exposed to non-ultraviolet rays. (The self-tanner was applied in both groups, so you don’t know which participants were exposed to UV.)
Although the non-UV group did not notice any difference in pain, “people in the UV group reported slight improvement,” according to study author and director of the Dake Research Center at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD.
Some may find these results promising, but personally, I find them overwhelming. I don’t want to risk the youthful appearance that I have maintained by avoiding natural and artificial sunlight, and more importantly, I have no interest in having skin cancer. Many studies have shown that a single tanning session can damage DNA. The idea of undergoing multiple tanning treatments in progress for the purpose of moderately relieving pain is one I would rather not entertain.
The concept of treating fibromyalgia with ultraviolet rays requires further research, and the authors of this study are the first to admit it. However, other alternative therapies need to be explored – those in which the risks do not outweigh the benefits.
There are days when my battle against fibromyalgia is desperate, but not enough to attempt a tan. As painful as it may be, fibromyalgia won’t kill me, but melanoma could.