Is Your Tan Worth the Risk?

Indoor tanning among young white women poses a serious threat to health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Is bronzed skin worth putting yourself in danger of skin cancer? According to recent research, a shocking number of women are taking that risk.

A new study found that a significant number of young white women were using indoor tanning, despite the increased risk of developing melanoma.

The researchers looked at two surveys that measured risky behaviors. They found that more than 15 percent of females from high school age to 34 years of age used indoor tanning more than 10 times per year.

The researchers concluded that such numbers were concerning, because rates of melanoma, a possibly fatal skin cancer, are on the rise.

"Avoid indoor tanning."

Gery Guy, PhD, MPH, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues conducted this research in order to find out how often young, non-Hispanic, white females used indoor tanning.

Several studies have linked indoor tanning to skin cancer. Specifically, the researchers stated that indoor tanning for people ages 35 and younger increased melanoma risk by 59 percent or more.

Although melanoma is less common than other forms of skin cancer, it is more dangerous. Melanoma is primarily caused by exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, light.

Tanning beds emit both UV-A and UV-B rays, which penetrate different layers of the skin. Both of these types of ultraviolet rays can lead to cancer.

As the rate of melanoma has increased among young, non-Hispanic white women, the researchers hoped to examine the link between this increase in melanoma and indoor tanning habits among that group.

The research team analyzed data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) from 2011 and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2010. The YRBS was administered to high school students, while the NHIS was given to adults ages 18 to 34.

Both of the surveys include questions about the frequency with which the person used indoor tanning.

For the purposes of this study, "indoor tanning" referred to the use of sunlamps, sun beds or tanning booths, but not spray tans.

The researchers found that 29.3 percent of the female high school students surveyed used indoor tanning. Additionally, 16.7 percent had used an indoor tanning device 10 times or more during the 12 months before the survey was administered.

Using the survey results for adults 18 to 34 years old, the researchers found that 24.9 percent of women had used indoor tanning. Results also showed that 15.1 percent of the women from the NHIS used indoor tanning at least 10 times during the previous year.

The NHIS survey also found that the prevalence and frequency of indoor tanning decreased with age.

The researchers concluded that such widespread use of indoor tanning is concerning given the risk of skin cancer.

They suggested strategies for intervention, including booklets, videos and peer counseling, in order to reduce instances of indoor tanning.

"Changing the social norms related to tanned skin and attractiveness may also be an effective strategy in reducing indoor tanning," the authors of the report wrote.

This research was published in JAMA Pediatrics online on August 19.

The research was funded by Aarhus University. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 22, 2013
Last Updated:
August 22, 2013