Tanning beds are used by approximately 1 in every 5 women and 1 in every 16 men in the United States, researchers from the University of Minnesota reveal in the journal Archives of Dermatology. Apparently, when asked about ways to lower their risk of developing skin cancer, a worryingly low percentage of regular tanners mentioned avoiding tanning beds, the investigators wrote.

The authors wrote as background information:

    “Skin cancer is the most common form of malignancy in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimated that 1 million new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer were diagnosed in 2009; 8,650 deaths were attributable to melanoma skin cancer. Despite a recent meta-analysis that supported a positive association between increased use of indoor tanning and both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, the indoor tanning industry is still growing rapidly, generating more than $5 billion in annual revenues, and has attracted more than 30 million patrons, primarily women.”

Kelvin Choi, Ph.D. and team set out to find out what the prevalence and characteristics of indoor tanning among American adults was. They gathered and examined data from the 2005 Health Information national Trends study.

2,869 Caucasians aged between 18 and 64 answered questions about their lifestyles, which included how often they used tanning beds, as well as demographics. 821 of them were questioned to find out how much they knew about skin cancer prevention, and what their attitudes were towards it.

The researchers found that 6.3% of adult males and 18.1% of females had used an indoor tanning facility during the previous year.

They also found that:

  • Women living in the South or Midwest were more likely to use indoor tanning and use spray tanning products.
  • Women who did not use tanning salons tended to be older, had a lower level of education, earned less, and were more likely to be regular sunscreen users
  • Males in metropolitan areas were more likely to use indoor tanning facilities, compared to other males
  • Older and/or obese men were much less likely to use indoor tanning facilities
  • Men who used tanning facilities were more likely to use spray tanning products

The researchers wrote:

    “The association between spray tanning product use and indoor tanning use in the past 12 months was strong in women and men, significantly more so in men,” the authors write. “Our finding suggests that, instead of substitution, women and men use both means to obtain a tan-looking appearance.”

They were asked – in open-response format – to list the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Their most common suggestions were:

  • Apply sunscreen
  • Stay out of the sun
  • Wear a hat
  • Very few suggested avoiding sunbeds; 13.3% of females and 4.2% of males.

Only 5.8% of regular indoor tanning women and 5.6% of men believed they should have their skin checked for cancer.

The authors wrote:

    “It is concerning that only a small proportion of adults reported avoidance of indoor tanning bed use to prevent skin cancer. Perhaps people are confused by the messages from the indoor tanning industry on possible benefits of indoor tanning, e.g. getting vitamin D from moderate exposure to artificial UV radiation. This possibility is also suggested by the fact that women and men who suggested sunscreen use as a method to reduce their skin cancer risk were more likely to have tanned indoors.

    (Conclusion) Strategies such as clinician-patient communication and media campaigns that focus on strategically disseminating the harms of indoor tanning to the adult population may be needed to reduce the prevalence of indoor tanning among adults in the United States.”

“Prevalence and Characteristics of Indoor Tanning Use Among Men and Women in the United States”
Kelvin Choi, PhD; DeAnn Lazovich, PhD; Brian Southwell, PhD; Jean Forster, PhD; Sharon J. Rolnick, PhD; Jody Jackson, BSN
Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(12):1356-1361. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2010.355

Written by Christian Nordqvist