Women Report more Indoor Tanning than Men, Few Adults Recognize Skin Cancer Risk


"[The study] speaks volumes about the increased pressure that young women face to look a certain way or fit into some sort of ideal physical image, even when there are potentially deadly consequences down the road," said Collins.

And Karcher said that young people sometimes tan for short-term fixes.

"It's hard to get through to some of those 18- to 24-year-olds," said Karcher. "They're educated with income, they've got the world by the balls and they want to look their best, but they have to understand that they don't look better."

When patients tell her that they use indoor tanning booths, Karcher tries to show them the long-term aesthetic effects.

"When I talk to patients who use indoor tanning, I tell them I've had three skin cancers because I was tan all the time," said Karcher. "I show them my scars. When they find out they're going to have scars and wrinkles on their face and chest, they usually think differently."

Marketing Beauty

Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, strategic director of risk factors surveillance for the American Cancer Society, said that information on tanning must be more readily available to educate people on the risks.

"We need to continue educating people," said Cokkinides. "Right now, indoor tanning is winning in marketing. We are constantly exposed to tanned women. These are subliminal messages saying that's the color we need to achieve."

Collins agrees, and says that it's important for the public to be proactive in protecting their skin by wearing a sunblock with at least SPF 30 every day and examining their own skin every month to look for changes.

Contrary to some beliefs, Collins also said that it is very difficult to reach adequate vitamin D levels from UV light without increasing one's risk of cancer. And, because tanning beds carry a whopping dose of UV radiation, it is more dangerous to get a "base tan" from indoor booths than the natural sun.

"It is important for everyone to know that there is no safe amount of tanning and that even when there is no sunburn, UV exposure still results in damage to the skin and ultimately leads to skin cancer and premature aging," said Collins.

The Indoor Tanning Association, or ITA, a group that represents thousands of indoor tanning manufacturers, distributors, facility owners and members from other support industries, was created to "protect the freedom of individuals to acquire a suntan, via natural or artificial light."

The ITA lists effects of indoor tanning, including positive psychological and physical effects of ultraviolet light, and the exposure to vitamin D.

But even on its homepage, a notice says: You don't need to become tan for your skin to make Vitamin D. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury.

A Brief History of the Suntan

But unlike the study's findings, well-to-do women did not always want sun-kissed skin. Prior to the 20th century, women went to great lengths to whiten their skin, even using chalk and arsenic in hopes of looking pale and fragile.

The rise of the suntanned skin is often attributed to Coco Chanel. After getting a sunburn while vacationing on the French Riviera, Chanel became an accidental trendsetter and people began emulating her golden look.

With the later introduction of bikini and bronzing creams, the quest for tanned skin has been on the steady rise among many people.

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