Like Mother, Like Daughter

Indoor Tanning with Mom Sets a Dangerous Precedent

New research supports the growing body of evidence that the children of women who tan indoors are more likely to be indoor tanners themselves: young women whose first indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning experience is with their mothers are more than 4.6 times more likely to become heavy tanners, according to a research letter published in Archives of Dermatology. Indoor UV tanning is associated with an increased risk of all forms of skin cancer, including potentially deadly melanomas. Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the US annually, 71 percent of whom are girls and women aged 16-29. This presents a serious health problem because people who first use tanning beds before age 35 have a 75 percent increase in their lifetime risk of developing melanoma. Furthermore, indoor tanners are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

Researchers, led by Joel Hillhouse, PhD, of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, studied the indoor tanning patterns of more than 200 female university students. Subjects included non-tanners, moderate tanners (those who tanned indoors 1-25 times a year), and heavy tanners, who tanned indoors more than 25 times a year. Investigators found that 81 percent of the subjects who had initially tanned indoors with their mothers were current tanners. Almost 32 percent were heavy tanners, making those whose first indoor tanning experience was with their mothers 4.64 times more likely to be heavy tanners than those who first tanned indoors alone or with someone other than their mother. Furthermore, study participants who tanned for the first time with their mothers started tanning approximately two years prior to other indoor tanners. Since UV damage is cumulative, that adds significantly to their lifetime risk of developing skin cancer.

Luckily, physicians can help parents model healthy behaviors: “Informing mothers of the risks of tanning and the strong influence their tanning behavior will have on their child’s current and future risks may have significant effects, ultimately resulting in less UV exposure,” the authors observed.