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Skin cancer risk may not scare indoor tanners; unattractiveness apparently does

May 17, 2010 |  3:56 pm

Tanning "Tanning is bad for you." "Tanning will make you look bad." The first message hasn't been very effective at deterring use of tanning salons. Perhaps the latter is the way to go.

It certainly seemed to curb tanners' enthusiasm in a study published Monday in Archives of Dermatology. The message was so effective, in fact, that it even reduced the intention to tan among people who got their doses of UV radiation for mood-enhancing, not appearance-enhancing, purposes.

In a study of 430 indoor tanners, all young women, researchers offered half of the participants a booklet explaining radiation's effects on the skin, plus ways to look good without that so-called healthy glow. (Exercise, sunless tanning products and clothing that doesn't rely on a tan for best effect ... in case you were wondering.)

They conclude:

"... Appearance-focused interventions, when grounded in strong theoretical models that have been empirically verified, can have robust, clinically significant effects on UV risk behaviors even in subpopulations with strong nonappearance tanning motives."

That is to say, everyone wants to look better.

Here's the abstract of the indoor-tanning study.

And here's a fact sheet on indoor tanning from the American Academy of Dermatology, plus information from the Food and Drug Administration on tanning's effects. Note that the information is provided under "radiation-emitting products." 

It states, in part:

"A recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concludes that tanning devices are more dangerous than previously thought. Exposure to UV radiation, whether from the sun or indoor tanning beds, can cause:

- Skin cancer

- Skin burns

- Premature skin aging

- Eye damage (both short- and long-term)

For these purposes, I suppose, focus on the third one.

After all, the researchers in the current study prefaced their findings with this background:

"Indoor tanning is a growing concern for health professionals, with prospective, case-controlled, and laboratory studies pointing toward an association of youthful indoor tanning with melanoma and nonmelanoma carcinoma.... [And yet] indoor tanning remains particularly attractive to youth, with recent national surveys reporting approximately 10% of those younger than 15 years and 25% to 40% of older adolescent females using sunbeds."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times