October 21, 2008 / 3:29 PM / in 10 years

Focus on appearance helps indoor tanners cut down

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Giving young indoor tanning enthusiasts the ugly truth about how ultraviolet light can affect their skin’s appearance, as well as offering alternatives to the bronzed look, can help them to reduce their tanning bed use, new research published in the journal Cancer shows.

“When you’re trying to get people to reduce skin cancer risk, focusing on appearance issues works,” Dr. Joel Hillhouse of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health.

Hillhouse and his team developed a 24-page booklet based on scientifically proven strategies to help people choose healthier alternatives, as well as their own years of research on why young people use indoor tanning.

People who use tanning beds and booths actually know more about their health risks — chiefly, increasing the risk of the most deadly type of skin cancer, melanoma — than those who don’t use them, Hillhouse noted in an interview, However, they tend to see skin cancer and wrinkles as something that will happen many years in the future.

Many young women also feel that they must be tan to look good, especially for special occasions like a dance or a big date, Hillhouse added, so the booklet also offered advice on using fashion to find ways to look attractive without a tan.

The researchers recruited 430 university students between the ages of 17 and 21, all of whom were indoor tanning users, and randomly assigned them to a group that received the booklet or to a “control” group. Six months later, the researchers found, during springtime (the prime indoor tanning season) the group who read the booklet were tanning 35% less often than they normally would have.

On average, the group given the booklet had tanned 6.8 times in the past three months, compared to 10.9 times for the control group.

Tanning booth use can range from a few times a year to three to five times a week, Hillhouse noted, and past research found these most frequent tanners are the hardest to reach with public health messages. In the current study, the reduction in tanning was actually greatest for the people who had been the heaviest users of indoor tanning.

Hillhouse noted that studies have found women younger than 35 who tan 20 times a year or more are at three- to eight-fold greater risk of melanoma. Apparently, he added, a better way to discourage the practice is to focus on how indoor tanning affects one’s looks rather than talking about its effects on health.

SOURCE: Cancer, December 1, 2008.

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