Focus on appearance may reduce sunbed usage

In collaboration with Adfero

Information about the harm sunbeds can do to young people's appearance could make them less inclined to use the tanning devices, US scientists have found.

Researchers at Northwestern University and East Tennessee State University studied 430 adult females, all of whom used sunbeds.

Of these, 200 were given a booklet containing information about the history and socio-cultural context of tanning; details of the potentially damaging effects on the skin; recommendations for reducing sunbed use; and healthier options such as using fake tanning products or exercising to enhance appearance.

The remaining 230 participants did not receive the booklet.

Participants were assessed after six months and the researchers found that women who had received the booklet tended to reduce their tanning behaviour.

This was even true among women who had pathological tanning motives, such as the feeling that their natural skin tone was unattractive or the feeling that their tanning was out of control.

The researchers suggested that tanners with pathological motives may also care about the impact of indoor tanning on their appearance.

Furthermore, they believe the booklet may have an effect on people who use sunbeds to relax or relieve stress, as the information could make them feel more anxious about indoor tanning and therefore less likely to use the machines.

Caroline Cerny, SunSmart manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that many people who use sunbeds report that having a tan makes them feel more attractive. The irony is that the damage caused by sunbeds causes premature ageing of the skin, making it look worse in the long term, as well as increasing their risk of skin cancer. It's interesting to see that emphasising this can encourage young people to reduce their sunbed use."

Writing in the Archives of Dermatology, the study authors observed: "Providing young patients who tan with information on the damaging effects of tanning on their appearance is effective, even if they are addicted to tanning or using it to ameliorate depression symptoms.

"Emphasising the appearance-damaging effects of UV light, both indoor and outdoor, to young patients who are tanning is important no matter what their pathological tanning behaviour status."

Senior author June Robinson, professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explained: "They're not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive.

"The fear of looking horrible trumped everything else. It was the most persuasive intervention, regardless of why they were going to tan."

Lead author Joel Hillhouse, professor of community health at East Tennessee State University, advised: "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."


  • Hillhouse, J., Turrisi, R., Stapleton, J., & Robinson, J. (2010). Effect of Seasonal Affective Disorder and Pathological Tanning Motives on Efficacy of an Appearance-Focused Intervention to Prevent Skin Cancer Archives of Dermatology, 146 (5), 485-491 DOI: 10.1001/archdermatol.2010.85