Indoor Tanning Popular Among Teens

Indoor tanning highly prevalent among high school students and associated with other risky behaviors

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

(RxWiki News) Indoor tanning, much like sunbathing on a sandy beach, is a risk factor for skin cancer. The practice is particularly dangerous for younger users.

A recent study found that indoor tanning was common among high school students, especially white, older female students.

The researchers also discovered that indoor tanning was associated with other risky behaviors such as binge drinking.

"Discuss the risks of indoor tanning with your doctor."

The lead author of this study was Gery P. Guy Jr, PhD, MPH, from the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

The study included 25,861 high school students who participated in the 2009 and 2011 National Youth Risk Behaviors Surveys. All participants in this study had answered questions about indoor tanning in the survey.

About half of the students were female and 62 percent were non-Hispanic white.

There were 14,590 participants from the 2009 survey and 11,271 participants from the 2011 survey.

The survey asked the students to self-report the frequency of indoor tanning, as well as risky health-related behaviors such as binge drinking and smoking cigarettes daily.

Frequent use was defined as having used an indoor tanning device 10 or more times in the year prior to the survey.

The findings showed that about half of the participants used indoor tanning devices in both 2009 and 2011.

Indoor tanning was most popular among female students aged 18 years and older, with 32 percent reporting use in 2009 and 29 percent reporting use in 2011.

The prevalence of indoor tanning for all of the female students dropped from 26 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in 2011.

In addition, indoor tanning was most prevalent among older, non-Hispanic white female students.

The researchers found that, among all of the participants, indoor tanning was associated with risk-taking behaviors such as binge drinking, unhealthy weight loss programs and having sex.

Among the female students, indoor tanning was associated with illegal drug use and having sex with four or more partners.

Behaviors such as taking steroids without a doctor's prescription, smoking cigarettes daily and attempting suicide were associated with indoor tanning among the male students.

The results also revealed that more than half of the participants who reported using indoor tanning devices reported frequent use.

Dr. Guy and team suggested that these associations between indoor tanning and risky behaviors calls for a comprehensive approach to prevention — including primary care physician counseling — in order to fully address this issue among teenagers.

The researchers mentioned a few limitations of their study. First, these findings are based on answers from the high school students, so they may not be applicable to all teenagers. Second, the frequency of indoor tanning was self-reported.

Another limitation was that the participant data was taken from another study, and since there was no control group for comparison, the researchers could not determine a cause-and-effect relationship between indoor tanning and risky behaviors.

This study was published on February 26 in JAMA Dermatology.

Review Date: 
February 26, 2014
Last Updated:
March 2, 2014