How should we talk about tanning?

April 12, 2011 GUEST BLOG POST by Danielle Torrisi

Take a look around any college campus, and you’ll notice at least a handful of tanning salons. Pick up their college’s newspaper and you’ll find ads for tanning salons with gorgeous, tanned women pictured with the slogan “Beautiful Tan Today. Young looking skin tomorrow” and promotional discounts that is sure to catch the eye of any student. The tanning industry portrays tanning as harmless and risk-free. However, research has shown that the incidence of melanoma has continued to rapidly increase since the 1970’s.   

A recent study at a southern university surveyed 492 students and results showed that a majority of the participants knew sun exposure increases the risk for skin cancer, but only 29% correctly identified behaviors that reduce this risk.

Less than 46% of the participants were able to identify signs of melanoma, and less than 10% were able to identify the primary area of the body for melanoma. Approximately half of the participants strongly believed that a tan improves one’s appearance, and only half thought that sun safe behaviors are necessary. It is very troubling to learn that they think their appearance outweighs their health.

College students need to be informed about the dangers of using tanning beds in hopes of changing attitudes and behaviors. It all starts with the media and advertisements need to show a more natural appearing skin. “As long as marketers portray being tan as healthy, attractive and sexy, young women will continue to believe that a tan is desirable, regardless of the risks” (Spradlin et al).

It needs to be understood that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. “In fact, UVA rays which are used in tanning beds can go all the way through the skin’s protective epidermis to the dermis, where blood vessels and nerves are found. Because of this, UVA rays may damage a person’s immune system, making it harder to fight off diseases and leading to illnesses like melanoma, the most serious (and deadly) type of skin cancer” (Tanning). This needs to be reinforced in student’s minds in order to see a behavior and attitude change.

To view this article go to: Citation: Spradlin, Kimberly, Martha Bass, William Hyman, and Rosanne Keathley. (2010). Skin Cancer: Knowledge, Behaviors, and Attitudes of College Students. Southern Medical Journal. 103, 999-1003.

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One Response to “How should we talk about tanning?”

  1. Katie Krauss says:

    It’s really sad that many people care more about the way they look instead of their health. Working at a Dermatology office I saw firsthand the damaging effects sun exposure can cause. Tanning in the sun is bad, but tanning in a tanning bed is even worse! I don’t believe that many people will change their minds about tanning until they are personally affected by skin cancer or know someone who has it. I also don’t think that marketing for tanning salons will change anytime soon. They will most likely not post warnings in their salons or advise people not to tan often because they are a business with a goal of making a profit.

    Recently, I have noticed more of an effort to curb indoor tanning. Because it offers little benefit to ones health I was happy to see that President Obama’s new health care bill included a 10% tax on tanning. We already tax unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and alcohol so its necessary to tax other unhealthy behaviors such as tanning. According to CNN this 10% tax is expected to bring in $2.7 billion dollars over the next ten years. Ultimately I believe this tax serves as a signal to let young people know that indoor tanning is dangerous and should be avoided.

    Just like the study mentioned in the blog above, I think everyone knows about the dangers of indoor tanning – most people just chose to ignore them. Teenagers believe they are invincible and many times associate skin cancer with something that affects older adults. Unfortunately more young adults are being diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Because it is often hard to change people’s perceptions about tanning I think it is important to at least advise people on how to look for the early signs of skin cancer. I was always taught to look for the ABCDE’s (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Elevation). Knowing what to look for may help teens to be proactive in their health. It may also improve ones self-efficacy for being able to provide an at home skin check.

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