Teenage Girls Get Tans Despite Cancer Risk

Survey Shows Tanning Beds and Outdoor Sunbathing Remain Popular Among Teens

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 2, 2011 -- Large numbers of teenage girls are still using tanning beds or sunbathing outdoors despite repeated warnings from doctors that too much exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to skin cancer, a new survey shows.

The American Academy of Dermatology's poll of about 3,800 white girls and women between 14 and 22 suggests that many thousands are trying to get tans in the sun or turning to tanning booths, or doing both.

Among key findings of the survey:

  • 32% of respondents had used a tanning bed in the past year; of those, one-fourth used a tanning bed at least once weekly.
  • 81% of respondents had tanned outdoors either frequently or occasionally in the past year.
  • 42% of indoor tanners are more concerned about wrinkles than non-indoor tanners; 28.4% of non-indoor tanners expressed such worries.
  • 65.5% of respondents said they think people look more attractive with a tan; 87.3% of indoor tanners gave that answer.
  • Indoor tanners were four times as likely to say their mothers used a tanning bed, compared to outdoor tanners.

Education About Risks of Tanning

"Our survey underscores the importance of educating young women about the very real risks of tanning, as melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- is increasing faster in females 15 to 29-years-old than in males of the same age group," dermatologist Ronald L. Moy, MD, FAAD, says in a news release.

Moy, who is president of the American Academy of Dermatology, also says that most young women with melanoma are "developing it on their torso, which may be the result of high-risk tanning behaviors, such as indoor tanning."

He says that in his practice in California, he has had patients -- young women with a history of using tanning beds -- who have died from melanoma.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization's International Agency of Research on Cancer both have said ultraviolet or UV radiation from the sun and artificial light sources such as tanning beds and sun lamps are carcinogenic.

The news release from the American Academy of Dermatology says indoor tanning increases a person's risk of melanoma by 75%.

The survey showed that 18- to 22-year-olds were almost twice as likely to have used indoor tanning than 14- to 17-year-old girls.

Spray tans are considered a safe alternative to ultraviolet exposure from the sun and indoor tanning booths, but still, 86% of respondents said they had not resorted to spray tans in the past year.

"Exposure to UV radiation is the leading risk factor for skin cancer, yet -- despite this knowledge -- droves of teens and young women are flocking to tanning bed facilities and beaches or pools to tan every year," Moy says.

Tanning Salons Are Prevalent

"A recent survey of 116 U.S. cities found an average of 42 tanning salons per city, which means tanning salons are more prevalent than Starbucks or McDonald's," Moy says. "We are very concerned that this tanning behavior will lead to a continued increase in the incidence of skin cancer in young people and, ultimately, more untimely deaths from this devastating disease."

Unless the upward trend changes, the American Academy of Dermatology says in its report that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

About 75% of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, the incidence of which has been rising for at least three decades, especially among young, white women in recent years.


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SOURCES: News release, American Academy of Dermatology.American Academy of Dermatology: "2011 Indoor Tanning: Teen and Young Adult Women Survey."

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