Why some risk skin cancer for tanning

A survey by a Baylor researcher indicates advertisements that depict smiling people sporting tans and often enjoying exotic vacation spots may influence people to tan in the sun or tanning beds and take risks with UV exposure and ultimately skin cancer.

Jay Yoo, PhD, presented his findings 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 about their body-tanning attitudes and behaviors. Yoo is an assistant professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

"What we've learned is that for some individuals, a significant motivation can be that tanning is a pleasurable and social activity," Yoo said.

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. Promoting intervention to reducing sun exposure and encourage safe sun practices has proven 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."

Yoo said tanning products are a good alternative to promote for people who tan solely for appearance but that it likely will not work for those who tan for pleasure.

"For them, tanning is a lifestyle," he said. "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 with sun tanning, Yoo said. However, many still choose UV-induced tanning, despite skin cancer being one of the most preventable cancers.

"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. They'll say, 'I'll worry about skin cancer tomorrow.'"