Indoor Tanning: How Many People Do It?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|May 25, 2014

Indoor tanning is common in Western countries and it’s mostly done by young people. As a dermatologist, it breaks my heart to write that sentence. During  Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we need to talk about the temptation of indoor tanning because tanning causes skin cancer. A large study reported in the April issue of the JAMA Dermatology investigated the popularity of indoor tanning. The study predicts an epidemic rise in skin cancers because of indoor tanning. Study investigators found that 43% of university students and 18% of adolescents tanned in the last year. Again, that's about 1 out of every 5 adolescents and 1 out of every 2 university students say they have tanned  in the last 12 months. Also, 14% of adults say they have tanned in the last year! Looking at the number of people who had ever tanned, they found that 55% of university students (meaning over half of these smart young future leaders), 19% of adolescents, and 36% of adults have used indoor tanning in the past at some point. That’s staggering to me! We know that the UV rays from indoor tanning cause skin cancer. We also know that tanning is especially dangerous when the exposure occurs in early life – like adolescents and university students. The harmfulness of indoor tanning is so well accepted and yet the practice is still common. Again, there is no controversy to the harmfulness of tanning. To quote the study authors,

indoor tanning is a World Health Organization group 1 carcinogen associated with malignant melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer.

To fully wrap our heads around the scope of the future skin cancer problem, the study investigators calculated how many cancers this tanning incidence will cause based on what we know about it as a risk. At this rate, indoor tanning will cause 450,000 non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) and 10,000 melanoma cancers EACH YEAR in the US, Europe, and Australia! These cancers scar, disfigure, and kill. It adds up to a tragic job security for dermatologists.

Who are the people that are tanning?

Everyone. But, not surprisingly more tanners are women. There are more indoor tanners in places with less year-round sun, meaning in Northern and Western Europe followed by the United States and Canada. Australia has the lowest incidence of indoor tanning. Data on university students, however, came entirely from the US – our smart university students will be headed for a lifelong relationship with their dermatologist if this keeps up. The authors compared tanning with smoking and note,

indoor tanning is a relatively new behavior that may be growing in popularity ... so it is possible that the number of skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning will continue to surpass the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking in coming years.

It’s an epidemic public health problem.

How do you motivate tanning teens and university students to avoid the temptation to tan?

Earlier this year I wrote about a recent medical study that showed that young people care about preventing wrinkles. They don't want to look old.

  • If you're  teen or young adult - don't tan. I promise you will wrinkle, get age spots, and look old much sooner than you think. I see it every day in my dermatology practice.  UV rays cause skin changes that are hard, if not impossible, to reverse even with all the expensive cosmetic surgery procedures and state-of-the-art anti-aging skin care. Just say no to tanning!
  • If you're an adult trying to motivate the teens and young adults in your life not to tan, you'll be far more effective talking with teens about the cosmetic consequences of sun exposure and tanning than you will be if you talk about the risk of skin cancer from tanning. Yep, these shocking statistics on skin cancer are not nearly as motivating as the reality about tanning and wrinkles.

We have conclusive proof that tanning leads to wrinkles – it’s a guarantee. It also leads to age spots, and with tanning, these age spots show up fast, well before the skin is actually "old." When young people avoid exposing their skin to UV rays, they are preventing wrinkles. It's also lowering their lifetime skin cancer risk -it’s a "two-fer" that we can all be happy about.

What are the skin benefits of indoor tanning?

There are none!  Honestly.  The story is all bad.  Whether indoor or from natural sun light, tanning UV rays are bad for your skin. It's my goal to help you to have a lifetime of healthy skin that's attractive and cancer-free. When it comes to UV rays, that means two things:

  1. Don't tan!  Believe me, I know the temptation to tan, I did my share as a teen and I regret it. To read my story click here for the post Tanning Addiction: Dermatologist's Personal Story.
  2. Wear sunscreen every day on your sun-exposed skin. UV rays from natural sunlight also cause skin cancer. Like UV rays from indoor tanning, the sun's UV rays will thin your skin causing wrinkles, uneven skin pigment, age spots, and skin fragility.  Click here for Conclusive Scientific Proof that Daily Use Of Sunscreen Prevents Skin Aging.

Need good sunscreens for daily use?

Dr. Bailey’s "Quick Pick" Sunscreen Product Guide:

Facial Sunscreens: natural sunscreen to prevent aging dry to normal skin Suntegrity BB CreamSuntegrity 5 in 1 BB Cream SPF 30 Sunscreen.  Tinted, moisturizing, and natural facial sunscreen for dry to normal skin.         best sunscreen for oily skin mdsolarsciencesMDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Creme SPF 30 Sunscreen.  Popular mattifying formula for oily skin.           dermatologist recommended oily skin sunscreen Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 Sunscreen. Light weight, untinted facial sunscreen for oily to normal skin.         I’m a scientist and I observed how well the Citrix works as a sunscreen. I was on vacation at the beach and put Citrix on my hands but a regular sunscreen with SPF 50 everywhere else.  You can see where the Citrix ended because beyond that I’m tan and my age spots are darker. I didn't get burned but I got brown. The Citrix works so much better.” Anonymous

Face and all-over sunscreens:

best dermatologist recommended all purpose sunscreen CitrixCitrix Sunscreen SPF 40. Great for neck/chest/ears/hands/arms/legs. Trusted non-greasy water-resistant protection that’s invisible and easy to use. My husband's favorite sunscreen and a sunscreen I've used every day for years.         dermatologist recommended sunscreen for hairy skin and kidsSolbar Zinc Sunscreen SPF 38. Trusted mineral protection that's economical and easy to apply to squirming children and hairy skin.         Lip Sunscreen Indoor tanning sunscreen for your lips EltaMD UV Lip BalmEltaMD UV Lip Balm SPF 31. Cosmetically elegant and pleasant tasting sun protection for delicate lip skin.         A sun-savvy "must have" - know when you're UV exposed! UV sensing beads to test sun exposure for indoor tanningUV Detecto Ring.  Economical and educational UV-sensing beads color up when exposed to UV rays.       If you have found these indoor tanning tips helpful, please show your thanks by commenting on, sharing, “liking,” Google+, tweeting, and “pinning,” using the social sharing buttons above and below this blog post with friends and family. Sincerely, Dr. Bailey Skin Care Team  

Indoor tanning Reference:

International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning, Mackenzie R. Wehner, MPhil; Mary-Margaret Chren, MD et. al., JAMA Dermatology. 2014;150(4):390-400 Photo attribution: Thanks and gratitude to © Ansgar Photography/Corbis

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