Sunless tanning products could reduce risk of sunburn, skin cancer

Smart woman: sunscreen AND a hat!

A report published in the latest issue of Archives of Dermatology claims that use of sunless tanning products may cut down on the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer. About ten percent of Americans used sunless tanning products in 2004 to achieve a “sun kissed glow” year-round, in lieu of going to a tanning bed, and the number is estimated to have increased dramatically in the years since.

The authors of the report, including Dr. Vilma Cokkinides, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia, say that promoting the use of sunless tanning products and discouraging people from using a tanning bed will dramatically cut down on the number of people who develop sunburns and eventually, skin cancer. In 2004, the authors conducted a nationwide telephone survey, collecting information from 1,600 eleven to eighteen year olds.

Ten percent of those surveyed used sunless tanning products, many of which contained dihydroxyacetone [when combined with amino acids on the skin’s outermost layer, this is what gives the skin a “tanned” appearance]. Most of the users were women who were closer to the age of eighteen and had family members who also used sunless tanning products. Those who used the products regularly believed that sunless tanning was the safest way to achieve a healthy-looking, year-round glow.

However, the researchers also reported that the individuals who used sunless tanning products were more likely to also use an indoor tanning bed, and were considered to be at a higher-risk of getting sunburn.

“Our findings suggest that use of sunless tanning products appears independently correlated with risky UVR exposure behaviors,” the report states. These “risky behaviors” included tanning both indoors and outdoors. Those who engaged in these “risky” behaviors failed to routinely wear sunscreen to protect their skin.

A similar study, also published in the most recent issue of Archives of Dermatology, revealed that women who received information about the dangers of tanning indoors and out without were then less likely to sunbathe, reported fewer burns, and began wearing protective clothing when out in the sun. Author Dr. Shelly Pagoto stated that “encouraging sunbathers to switch to sunless tanning could have an important health impact. Promoting sunless tanning to sunbathers in the context of a skin cancer prevention public message may be helpful in reducing sunbathing and sunburns.”

In Dr. Pagoto’s study, the research team approached 250 women sunbathing on a beach and asked them to participate. 125 of the women were given information about the benefits of sunless tanning and the danger of skin cancer. These women also had a UV-filtered photo taken of their skin, so that researchers could examine potential sun damage [the type that isn’t visible to the naked eye]. They were then given free samples of sunless tanning products and sunscreen. The other group of women was simply given free cosmetic samples – products unrelated to sun safety.

When Dr. Pagoto’s team followed up with both groups of women months later, they found that the first group was now actively practicing “safe sun,” while the second group was still engaging in the same sunbathing habits.

“Future research should determine how to further convince tanners to switch to sunless tanning,” the study asserts.

Despite the fact that the dangers of sunbathing without sunscreen and regularly using an indoor tanning bed are all over the news – and even posted at the walls at facilities that offer indoor tanning booths – people, especially young women, continue to participate in risky behaviors that put them at high risk of developing skin cancer. TV shows like Jersey Shore certainly don’t send the “practice safe sun” message, and young people seem more concerned with their appearance than their risk of cancer. What can be done?

Cosmopolitan magazine is one of the organizations working to get the safe sun message to women. They launched their Practice Safe Sun campaign almost five years ago, with the goal of alerting women “to the connection between unprotected UV exposure and skin cancer.” Their informational webpage offers content ranging from how to do a self-skin check to ways you can donate to skin cancer research groups.

We know that summer is over, and winter is not far away. But did you know that you can still get sunburn in the wintertime? That the sun’s UV rays are still dangerous on a cloudy day? It’s important to practice safe sun all year long. Regardless of whether your fair-skinned or have a darker skin tone, consider wearing a facial moisturizer with at least SPF 15 every single day. You too, guys! If you’re going to be outside, wear sunscreen on any exposed body parts – including your hands and the tips of your ears, two places that people tend to neglect when applying sunscreen. A sunscreen with zinc oxide is your best bet, as it is most effective against UVA and UVB rays and is waterproof.

For the African American community: people of color can and do get sunburn, and they can get skin cancer! Wear an SPF moisturizer daily and if you’re hitting the beach, wear sunscreen on exposed areas.

To learn more about practicing safe sun, and how to do self-skin checks at home, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Self Examination webpage.


Cosmopolitan Practice Safe Sun Campaign

Skin Cancer Foundation

Archives of Dermatology

Medical News Today

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