Report Finds Shocking Tanning Habits in Young Women

Published on August 21, 2013

Despite the well-established dangers of indoor tanning, teenage and young adult women continue to use tanning beds at an alarming rate. A new study* has revealed that, over the course of one year:

  • Over 29 percent of non-Hispanic white female high school students engaged in indoor tanning at least once, and almost 17 percent did so at least 10 times.
  • Nearly 25 percent of non-Hispanic white women ages 18 to 34 engaged in indoor tanning at least once, and over 15 percent did so at least 10 times.

Dr. Melanie Palm, spokeswoman for The Skin Cancer Foundation, notes that these findings are consistent with past research. “There is a disproportionate number of girls and young women using tanning beds,” she says. “There’s a cultural disconnect between the risk and the desire for a ‘healthy glow.’”

Previous research has proven the consequences of such behavior: Just one indoor UV tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—by 20 percent; it also increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) by 29 percent. In all, more than 170,000 cases of skin cancer in the US each year are linked to indoor tanning.

The new study’s findings highlight the need for greater understanding among young women about the dangers associated with indoor tanning. Since physical appearance may mean more to young women than long-range health effects, the study authors advise making teenagers and young adults aware that tanning causes not just skin cancer, but age spots, wrinkling, and other negative cosmetic affects. The FDA is also working to help solve the problem: in March 2013 it issued a proposal to raise the classification of tanning beds from Class 1 (low to moderate risk) devices to Class II (moderate to high risk) devices; that proposal is currently under review.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that people of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds avoid indoor tanning and take precautions in the sun by limiting outdoor time between 10 am and 4 pm, seeking the shade when outdoors, using SPF 15+ sunscreen, and wearing protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.

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* Guy GP, Jr., Berkowitz Z, Watson M, et al. Letters: Research Letter: Indoor tanning among young non-Hispanic white females. JAMA Int Med 2013; E1-E2. [Epub August 19 ahead of print]