Too Tanned in Paradise? Baylor Researcher Examines Why Some People Risk Skin Cancer

Paradise and tan
(iStockphoto)
April 14, 2015

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WACO, Texas (April 14, 2015) — Tanning as “paradise” — the depiction in ads and magazines of smiling people sporting even tans and often enjoying exotic vacation spots — may influence people to tan in the sun or tanning beds and take risks with UV ray exposure and ultimately, skin cancer, says a Baylor University researcher.

“What we’ve learned is that for some individuals, a significant motivation can be that tanning is a pleasurable and social activity,” said Jay Yoo, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

Yoo presented the research on tanning behaviors and attitudes at the annual Family and Consumer Sciences Conference of Texas. His presentation was based on continued analysis of a 2014 study of 333 college students who were surveyed online about their body-tanning attitudes and behaviors.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for nearly half of United States cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Tanned skin generally is portrayed in advertisements as a cultural ideal, Yoo said, and promoting intervention to reducing sun exposure and encourage safe sun practices has proven very difficult.

“Study after study has shown that the primary motivation for tanning is enhancing one’s appearance,” Yoo said. “Skin color is an important component of one’s body image.

“Now for those who tan solely for appearance, using tanning products is a good alternative to promote. But for those who do it for pleasure, a product is not going to work. For them, tanning is a lifestyle. If I appear tan, it causes people to think, ‘Hey, you have money and time for relaxing and enjoying yourself.’”

Research shows that young adults are very aware of the risks involved in sun-tanning, Yoo said. But although skin cancer one of the most preventable cancers, many still choose to tan UV-induced tanning, he said.

“We need to find a way of developing intervention strategies, and much depends on whether we idealize tan skin — or whether we stigmatize it,” he said.

“Many people want a ‘natural’ look and think tanning is the way to go about it — even if they know the risks. If they think, ‘People like this (glamorous and wealthy) are doing it — or if they think outdoor tanning and tanning beds are pleasurable or sociable — they’ll got out and tan that way instead of applying a product.

“They’ll say, ‘I’ll worry about skin cancer tomorrow.’”

Yoo is vice president of academic affairs for the Texas Family and Consumer Sciences Association. His research interests are appearance-related behaviors and how they affect individual and social well-being. He has been quoted in U.S. News and World Report, Fortune magazine, Third Age and HealthDay news service.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT ROBBINS COLLEGE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SCIENCES

Strengthening the health sciences to improve healthy and quality of life for individuals, families and communities is the goal of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences. Its anchor academic units include communication sciences and disorders; family and consumer sciences; health, human performance and recreation; and the Louise Herrington School of Nursing. It seeks to create curricula that will promote a team-based approach to patient care, establish interdisciplinary research collaborations and prepare scholars and leaders to translate theory into practice.

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