Advertising and magazines that present tanning on a beach as a paradise in exotic vacation destinations with smiling, tanned models may be influencing people to search out ways of getting more tanned, either by sunlight exposure or using tanning beds, putting themselves at higher risk of suffering from UV ray exposure and skin cancer. Those are the conclusions of a study conducted at Baylor University that analyzed tanning behaviors in college students.
The study, led by the assistant professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, Jay Yoo, PhD, were presented during the annual Family and Consumer Sciences Conference of Texas. “What we’ve learned is that for some individuals, a significant motivation can be that tanning is a pleasurable and social activity,” explained Dr. Yoo in a press release.
The research included 333 college students who answered an online survey during 2014 with questions on their body-tanning attitudes and behaviors. According to Dr. Yoo, tanned skin is commonly featured in advertising as ideal and natural, which the researcher believes is a major problem since skin cancer is among the most common type of cancers and has been proven difficult to conduct interventions able to reduce sun exposure and promote safe sun practices.
“Study after study has shown that the primary motivation for tanning is enhancing one’s appearance,” stated the investigator. “Skin color is an important component of one’s body image. Now for those who tan solely for appearance, using tanning products is a good alternative to promote. But for those who do it for pleasure, a product is not going to work. For them, tanning is a lifestyle. If I appear tan, it causes people to think, ‘Hey, you have money and time for relaxing and enjoying yourself.’”
In addition, the results revealed that young adults are aware of the risks associated to tanning, but still choose to engage in it. “We need to find a way of developing intervention strategies, and much depends on whether we idealize tan skin — or whether we stigmatize it,” said Dr. Yoo, as skin cancer is also among the most preventable types.
“Many people want a ‘natural’ look and think tanning is the way to go about it — even if they know the risks,” added the researcher. “If they think, ‘People like this (glamorous and wealthy) are doing it — or if they think outdoor tanning and tanning beds are pleasurable or sociable — they’ll got out and tan that way instead of applying a product. They’ll say, ‘I’ll worry about skin cancer tomorrow.’”