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Tanning is still popular among young women despite known link to skin cancer, survey finds

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May 02, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
  • Tanning -- including the use of tanning beds -- is still extremely common among young women despite the increased risk of skin cancer.
Tanning -- including the use of tanning beds -- is still extremely common… (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles…)

When it comes to tanning and health, young women still aren’t getting the message, according to a new survey from the American Academy of Dermatology.

The reason tanning turns your skin brown is that it becomes damaged by ultraviolet radiation. This is true regardless of whether those UV rays come directly from the sun or from an artificial source, like a tanning bed or sun lamp. Both short-wavelength UVB and the relatively longer-wavelength UVA damage the DNA in skin cells, increasing the risk of malignant melanoma and squamous and basal cell carcinomas. (And even if you don’t care about cancer risk, consider that UV waves break down the collagen in your skin, causing it to wrinkle.)

It’s not just those pesky dermatologists who say this. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have declared UV a known carcinogen. According to the dermatology group, studies have found that people who engage in indoor tanning increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75%.

And yet, 32% of the young women surveyed by the academy told an interviewer that they had put themselves in a tanning bed within the past year, with 25% of those tanners saying they had done so on a weekly basis.

The appeal of indoor tanning appears to increase with age. The academy found that while 22% of teen girls between age 14 and 17 had engaged in indoor tanning, 40% of young women between age 18 and 22 had done so.

One of the problems, according to Dr. Ronald Moy, the academy’s president, is that tanning salons are everywhere. In a statement, he cited a survey of 116 American cities that found that each city had an average of 42 indoor tanning establishments. “Tanning salons are more prevalent than Starbucks or McDonald’s,” he said.

California may become the first state in the country to make indoor tanning illegal for minors. A bill sponsored by the California Society of Dermatology & Dermatological Surgery and the Aim at Melanoma Foundation – with wide support from medical groups and health insurers – is scheduled for a hearing in Sacramento today.

In addition indoor tanning, 81% of those who participated in the survey said they had tanned outdoors at least occassionally in the previous year.

This doesn’t mean the Academy wants everyone to walk around looking pasty. Spray tans are a safe way to get that golden hue, but only 14% of those surveyed got a spray tan in the past year.

The survey included responses from more than 3,800 Caucasian teens and young women from around the country. All were between the ages of 14 and 22.

For information about the health risks of tanning and safer alternatives, check out this website about melanoma from the American Academy of Dermatology.

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