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Tanning Lotion Can Help Women Cut Back On Sunbathing

September 21, 2010

Government funded researchers have found that they can get women to cut back on sunbathing by getting them to use tanning lotion instead.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the skin cancers diagnosed every year in the U.S. are sun-related.  Melanoma, which is the most deadly kind, kills about 8,700 people every year.

U.S. researchers tested whether offering sunbathing women free samples of tanning lotion and sunscreen could heighten awareness of the harms.

They set up a tent on a beach and invited 250 women to come inside.  Half of the women received free cosmetics samples unrelated to skin health, while research assistants handed out sunless tanners along with a bit of skin cancer education to the others.

“Many people find a tanned appearance to be physically attractive and combating that with a health message is difficult,” Sherry Pagoto, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester, told Reuters Health by e-mail.

“Instead of trying to talk people out of wanting to be tan, we decided to encourage them to use sunless tanning as a healthier alternative.”

After a couple of months, the women given sunless tanners reported a 33 percent decrease in sunbathing, compared to 10 percent in the control group.

They also got fewer sunburns and wore more protective clothing.

Pagoto’s findings appear in the Archives of Dermatology.  She told Reuters that the active ingredient in tanning lotions has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1973, with no harms reported.

Some tanning lotions cost less than $10, while prices vary widely.

However, according to the American Cancer Society, the FDA has not green-lighted the ingredients in tanning pills, which may in fact be harmful.

Dr. June Robinson, a dermatologist who wrote an editorial on the findings, told Reuters that tanning lotions have improved considerably in recent years.

“I feel comfortable recommending them,” Robinson, who added she has no industry ties, told Reuters Health. “What many people do at this time of year is think about indoor tanning. Instead try to pick up a sunless tanner.”

She said she was more reluctant to recommend the sprays, which might be inhaled.

However, using sunless tanners is not a foolproof recipe for fewer sunburns.

A new survey published in the Archives of Dermatology said that about one in 10 U.S. adolescents say they use tanning products.  However, that does not mean they use more sunscreen or limit their UV exposure.  Teens who use sunless tanners also spend more time in tanning beds and tend to get more sunburns.

“People who really want to be tan should strongly consider using sunless tanning instead of tanning booths or sunbathing,” Pagoto told Reuters. “Melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer, is the #2 cancer diagnosed in young women, and it is highly associated with (ultraviolet radiation) exposure via the sun or tanning booths.”

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