Appearance Focus Rather Than Cancer Risk Affects Tanning in Young Women


According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a recent study confirmed that nonmelanoma skin cancer has reached epidemic status in the US, with an estimated 350 percent increase in the number of skin cancers over the past decade and a half.

Imparting this knowledge to young women doesn’t reduce their use of indoor tanning beds, but focusing on the damage done to the appearance of their skin can.

Joel Hillhouse, Ph.D., of East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, and colleagues have published the results of their study in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology looking at which health-based intervention worked best in reducing skin cancer risks.

The researchers studied 430 adult female indoor tanners on one college campus. A total of 200 were randomly assigned to receive a booklet that included information about the history and current sociocultural context of tanning, along with the potentially damaging effects of tanning on the skin. The booklet also gave recommendations for reducing indoor tanning and offered healthier options to enhance appearance, including exercise, choosing fashion that does not require a tan or using sunless tanning products. The other 230 did not receive the booklet.

Damaging effects of tanning bed use can led premature aging of the skin giving it a dry, wrinkled, leathery appearance.

All participants were assessed for seasonal affective disorder and four pathological tanning motives: the feeling that one’s tanning is out of control; evidence of tolerance to the effects of tanning; the belief that one’s natural skin tone is unattractive and unappealing; or opiate-like reactions to tanning.

The researchers re-assessed tanning frequency of all participants six months after distributing the booklet. Those who received the booklet had an overall reduction in tanning behaviors, even for participants who reported a pathological motive for tanning.


“Emphasizing the appearance-damaging effects of UV light, both indoor and outdoor, to young patients who are tanning is important no matter what their pathological tanning behavior status,” the authors conclude. “Still, tailored interventions may be able to better address some individual motivations for tanning and their relation to psychopathology. The best methods for delivering these powerful messages and for matching message communication to individual preferences remain to be explored so that this promising intervention approach to skin cancer prevention can have a wider impact across varied settings.”

Tanning beds are not a safer way to get a tan. Safe sun practices include:

  1. Plan your outdoor activities to avoid the sun's strongest rays. As a rule, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  2. Wear protective covering such as broad-brimmed hats, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts to reduce sun exposure.
  3. Wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV ray protection.
  4. When outdoors, always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater, which will block both UVA and UVB. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply approximately every 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

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FDA Reconsiders Cancer Risks of Tanning Beds, Finally

Will FDA Finally Limit Tanning Bed Use?

Despite skin cancer millions use tanning beds


Arch Dermatol. 2010;146[5]:485-491.

Skin Cancer Foundation


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