MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Tanning bed use remains
popular among Americans, a new study shows, despite reported links
to an increased risk of skin cancer and the availability of safe
In fact, about one in every five women and more than 6 percent
of men say they use indoor tanning, University of Minnesota
"Tanning is common, particularly among young women," said study author Kelvin Choi, a research associate from the university's School of Public Health. "The use of tanning is actually higher than smoking."
"People tan for aesthetic reasons," said Dr. Cheryl Karcher, a dermatologist and educational spokeswoman for The Skin Cancer Foundation. "A lot of people feel they look better with a little bit of color. Eventually, people will realize that the skin you were born with is the skin that looks best on you."
Karcher noted that there is no safe level of tanning.
"Ultraviolet light damages the DNA of cells and makes cancer," she
said. "People should absolutely avoid indoor tanning. There is
absolutely no reason for it. In the long run, it's really
Yet, many seem unaware of the risk for skin cancer linked to
tanning beds and don't consider avoiding them as a way to reduce
their risk of skin cancer, the researchers noted.
That's unfortunate, Choi said, because "the popularity of indoor
tanning among young women may contribute to the recent increase of
melanoma in women under 40."
The report is published in the December issue of the
Archives of Dermatology.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United
States. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2009 there
were about 1 million new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin
cancer and about 8,650 Americans died from melanoma, the most
deadly form of skin cancer.
Numerous studies have linked indoor tanning to a heightened risk
of skin cancer, including one study published in May that found
that tanning bed use boosts the odds for melanoma. Early this year,
an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also
recommended a ban on the use of tanning beds by people under the
age of 18.
For the new study, Choi and colleagues collected data on almost
2,900 people who took part in the 2005 Health Information National
Trends study. In addition, 821 of these people were asked about
what they knew about preventing skin cancer.
Overall, about 18 percent of women and 6.3 percent of men
reported using tanning beds in the past year.
Many of those who use tanning beds are young, Choi said. "About
36 percent of women and 12 percent of men between the ages of 18
and 24 reported tanning indoors in the past year," he said.
Among women who used tanning beds, most lived in the Midwest or
South. Many also used commercial spray-on tans. Choi noted that
spray tans are not typically being used as a substitute for tanning
beds -- instead, many people use both.
Women who did not tan tended to be older, had less education,
had lower incomes and regularly used sunscreen, the researchers
found. Men who did not use tanning beds tended to be older and
obese. Men were more likely to use tanning beds if they used spray
tans and lived in urban areas, the researchers note.
So why is indoor tanning still popular, even as knowledge of the
risks increases? Some research has suggested that people can become
addicted to tanning, and Choi believes that "there may be addictive
potential to indoor tanning -- [people] called 'tanorexics.'"
The study also found that when it came to beliefs about
preventing skin cancer, avoiding indoor tanning didn't seem to be
on most people's radar. For example, just 13 percent of women and 4
percent of men said the devices should be avoided to cut cancer
risk. Instead, most people pointed to sunscreen, avoiding sun
exposure and wearing a hat as the best ways to prevent the disease,
Choi's group found. Only about 6 percent of both women and men
thought they should be screened for skin cancer, the researchers
The bottom line, according to the study authors, is that despite
the known risks, "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."
"People may be confused by the information on the possible benefits of indoor tanning," Choi said. He pointed to recent media coverage of studies suggesting the need for more vitamin D -- produced by the activity of sunlight on skin -- as perhaps furthering the (erroneous) notion that tanning is somehow good for you.
One representative of the indoor tanning industry took issue
with the new study. John Overstreet, a spokesman for the Indoor
Tanning Association, said that "the study design and conclusions
strongly suggest that the authors started with a preexisting bias
against indoor tanning."
"This is just another study that presupposes there are only risks, when in fact there are many benefits to exposure to UV light, whether from the sun or a sunbed but especially in the controlled setting of an indoor tanning salon," he said.
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