Students Saving Their Hides From Indoor Tanning

Skin cancer risk from indoor tanning is high among high school students, but fewer were using indoor tanning beds

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

(RxWiki News) That "healthy glow" you get from indoor tanning might not be so healthy — especially for people who start tanning at a young age. Fortunately, teens are less likely to tan now than they were a few years ago.

The message that tanning may lead to skin cancer may be sinking in with young people. A new study found that indoor tanning has decreased among high school students, although many young women still continue the practice.

Gery P. Guy Jr., PhD, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and colleagues studied indoor tanning trends among high school students from 2009 to 2013.

“The decreases in indoor tanning from 2009 to 2013 may be partly attributable to the increased awareness of its harms," Dr. Guy told dailyRx News. "Every time you tan you increase your risk of getting skin cancer, including melanoma. Indoor tanning also causes premature skin aging, like wrinkles and age spots, and changes your skin texture.”

Tanning dropped from about 25 percent to 20 percent for all female high school students, this study found. Indoor tanning among white girls decreased from 37.4 percent to 30.7 percent. These researchers also noted a decline in tanning among black male students from 6.1 percent to 3.2 percent.

Despite these reductions, indoor tanning remained fairly common among young people.

“The 2013 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey data suggest that an estimated 1.5 million female and 0.4 million male high school students engage in indoor tanning; most (1.6 million) are younger than 18 years,” Dr. Guy and team wrote.

About 6 out of 10 teens think they look better when they have a tan, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The American Skin Association, however, says that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanned skin forever contains cells that have been damaged by the sun.

These researchers said about 1 in 5 young females were getting indoor tanning treatments at least once during 2013. About 1 in 10 girls were frequently using an indoor tanning device 10 or more times during the year.

While the prevalence of indoor tanning has been much lower among boys, it is not uncommon. Over 5 percent of high school boys tan indoors each year, Dr. Guy said.

Indoor tanning was defined as using a tanning device such as a sunlamp, sunbed or tanning booth. These researchers excluded spray-on tans.

Dr. Guy and team used surveys from the 2009, 2011 and 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. The data included 16,410 students from 2009, 15,425 from 2011 and 13,583 from 2013.

The authors of this study stressed the importance of early intervention to help people quit tanning and keep them from starting.

The CDC warns that indoor tanning can cause skin cancers like melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation also can lead to cataracts and cancers of the eye (ocular melanoma).

Dr. Guy added that patients are encouraged to follow these further recommendations to reduce their risk of skin cancer:

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

This study was published online Dec. 23 in JAMA Dermatology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 23, 2014
Last Updated:
December 27, 2014