Talked out of Tanning

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May 17, 2010 — Informing young women about how indoor tanning can damage their appearance may keep them out of tanning salons and help them reduce their risk for skin cancer,  a new study says.

Researchers led by Joel Hillhouse, PhD, a professor of public health at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., studied 200 women on a college campus who tanned. The women received an educational booklet that addressed how tanning damages the skin, the value of avoiding indoor tanning, and alternatives for keeping a healthy appearance, such as exercise, diet, choosing fashions that do not emphasize a tanned appearance, and using sunless tanning products. These women were compared with 230 adult females who also tanned but did not receive a booklet.

All women were assessed for seasonal affective disorder and four tanning motives that could be harmful to their health: the feeling that one’s tanning is out of control or a problem; developing a tolerance to the effects of tanning; the belief that one’s natural skin tone is unattractive; and experiencing an opiate-like high induced by tanning.

Six months later, the 430 participants were asked how often they continued tanning indoors.The study results showed tanning frequency went down in the group that received the booklet but didn’t change among those who did not receive the booklet.

The booklet appeared to have had a stronger effect on two tanning motives: having an opiate-like high from tanning and being unhappy with one’s natural skin tone. The effect was not as evident for the other two motives: perceiving one’s tanning as out of control and having a tolerance to tanning. The findings were published in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology.

“Providing young patients who tan information on the damaging effects of tanning on their appearance is effective even if they are addicted to tanning or using it to ameliorate depression symptoms,” the authors write. “Emphasizing the appearance-damaging effects of UV light, both indoor and outdoor, to young patients who are tanning is important,” no matter their reasons for tanning.

In the United States, indoor tanning is a $2 billion-a-year industry with about 28 million Americans using about 25,000 tanning salons nationwide. Tanning is often promoted as a way to look healthy, and indoor tanning has been popular among young adults and teens; about 10% of people younger than 15 years old and 25% to 40% of older adolescent females use tanning beds.

Tanning beds or booths deliver high levels of ultraviolet light to color the skin. Other research has shown that people who use indoor tanning devices face a 1.5 times increased risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, and a 2.5 times increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, even after accounting for sunburns and overall sun exposure.

The researchers suggest that a booklet may be a simple step toward reducing some of these statistics.


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