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Tanners Motivated By Negative Effects To Stop

May 18, 2010

According to a report in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology, focusing on the negative effects that indoor tanning can have on appearance can reduce indoor tanning behavior, even among young women who report they tan to relax or alleviate seasonal mood disorders.

“They’re not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive,” June Robinson, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author wrote.  The study examined the best strategy to wean college-age women who are considered addicted or pathological tanners from tanning salons.

“The fear of looking horrible trumped everything else,” Robinson said. “It was the most persuasive intervention, regardless of why they were going to tan.” The research showed warning them about the effects on their appearance caused a 35 percent drop in their indoor tanning visits, which were measured at intervals up to six months after the intervention.

Joel Hillhouse, the lead author of the study and a professor of community health at East Tennessee State University, said some women in the study eventually stopped tanning.   “It was a progressive kind of thing,” he said. “At first the women said they tried sunless tanning as an alternative, but over time they gave up tanning altogether.”

The study’s authors said between 25 to 40 percent of older adolescent girls visit tanning salons.  The researchers, along with other scientists, link the rapidly rising rates of melanoma and other skin cancers in young women to tanning beds.  A new 10 percent federal excise tax on indoor tanning will go into effect on July 1 in order to try and discourage indoor tanning.

The National Cancer Institute found that melanoma rates among Caucasian women between the ages 15 to 39 rose 50 percent between 1980 and 2004.  The World Health Organization recently classified indoor tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category.

There were 435 college women who visited tanning salons between the ages 18 to 22 that were included in the study.  The researchers focused on women who visited salons up to four times a week and that tanned for psychological reasons, not just for a special event.

These tanners included one group who strongly disliked their natural skin color, which was related to a physiological condition called body dysmorphia.  Hillhouse said “They thought their skin was disgusting when it was pale.”

The group that said tanning made them feel happier or more relaxed showed symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) on a diagnostics psychological test.  Robison said  “They were self medicating their own depression.”

The women received a 25-page booklet that discussed the effect of tanning on appearance and explained how ultraviolet rays destroy collagen in the skin.  The booklet, authored by Hillhouse, also offered many alternatives to meet the women’s needs for tanning, like taking an exercise class for socializing and relaxation or getting a spray-on tan or self-tanning cream applications at a spa.  The women reported their attitudes and behaviors twice a week in diaries.

The study results surprised researchers. “The hypothesis was because this was an appearance intervention, it would have less of an effect on the people tanning for mood problems,” Hillhouse said. “We found the opposite. The intervention worked just as well for people with seasonal affective disorder as for people who didn’t like their skin color. That means it’s a really good intervention for everyone.”

His advice to parents and physicians: “Don’t focus on skin cancer. The message that will get young women’s attention is indoor tanning’s long-term effect on their appearance. That will wake them up and get them to think about this.”

Robinson talked about how important it was to offer women alternatives to tanning salons.  “You have to balance the positive and the negative forces that motivate someone to change,” she said. “First you have the fear that they will look horrible, then you offer a positive ““ an alternative to meet their needs.”

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