Tanning bed use declining among U.S. adults

(Reuters Health) - The number of U.S. adults using indoor tanning machines decreased by a third between 2010 and 2015, a recent study suggests.

Although indoor tanning remains popular, especially among young non-Hispanic white women, even that group saw a roughly 30 percent decline in tanning bed use, researchers report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Indoor tanning and sunburns increase the risk for skin cancer, including melanoma,” said lead author Gery Guy of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Another recent study by Guy and colleagues found that indoor tanning among adolescents had dropped by more than half from 2009 to 2015.

“Such reductions suggest that more people are getting the message about the damages of indoor tanning and understanding that tanned skin is damaged skin,” Guy told Reuters Health by email.

For the current study, the researchers analyzed data from the annual National Health Interview Survey, a nationally-representative sample of about 25 million U.S. adults over age 18. Participants were asked about their use of indoor tanning and any sunburns they experienced, indoors or outdoors, during the past year.

In 2010, 5.5 percent of survey participants used indoor tanning, which dropped to 3.5 percent in 2015. Those figures include a decrease from 8.6 percent of women and 2.2 percent of men tanning in 2010 to 5.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, in 2015.

In the adult group that uses tanning beds the most - white non-Hispanic women between the ages of 18 and 21 - usage dropped from 31.8 percent in 2010 to 20.4 percent in 2015.

The results also linked indoor tanning to sunburns, with about 41 percent of indoor tanners saying they had at least one sunburn during the year, compared with 34 percent of people who didn’t use tanning beds. Among 18 to 29-year-old white women, 77 percent of indoor tanners reported a sunburn compared to 62.5 percent of peers who didn’t use indoor tanning. In addition, 6.7 percent of indoor tanners reported having been burned by a tanning machine.

The researchers speculate that the higher risk of sunburn among indoor tanners may result both from tan-seeking behavior in general and a misperception of the sunburn protection offered by an existing “base” tan.

“It is encouraging that evidence is emerging of reduced exposure to indoor tanning,” said Michael Bracken of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

“However, as this practice incurs absolutely no benefit in the face of increased risk of a potentially lethal disease, continued efforts to further reduce exposure is important,” Bracken, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters Health by email.

The drop in tanning bed usage may be related to the 10 percent excise tax implemented by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, as well as state laws restricting minors’ access to tanning beds, the study authors note.

“Historically, tanning has been persistent among young white women - and research is showing us, gay men as well - due to social norms around the appearance of tan skin. Some people feel they really look better with a tan,” said Sherry Pagoto of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“There are misconceptions still that tanning beds are safer than tanning outside, but the source of UV radiation doesn’t matter,” she told Reuters Health.

“There’s no such thing as a safe tan,” Pagoto added. “The ‘base tan’ idea is not real and not safe to do.”

Guy advises wearing sunglasses, broad-spectrum sunscreen and protective clothing outdoors, as well as avoiding sunbathing and finding shade during midday hours. Pagoto also recommends self-tanning products for the same glow with no UV exposure.

“If it’s hard to give up the idea of tanner skin, explore self-tanners, which have improved significantly in the past several years, so you can have a risk-free tan,” Pagoto said. “Tanning leads to wrinkling and sun spots - ask any 40-something woman what she regrets doing, and you’ll get the same response.”

SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, online May 15, 2017.