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Study: Appearance outcomes effective in reducing indoor tanning

Thursday, November 13, 2008JOHNSON CITY – Despite ongoing warnings, research shows that behaviors such as indoor tanning that are associated with an increased risk for skin cancer are on the rise.

But in the latest issue of the prestigious research journal Cancer, available now online, findings of a study conducted at East Tennessee State University suggest that concerns over age spots and other appearance-related outcomes of indoor tanning – rather than the risk of cancer – were more likely to influence women to reduce tanning behaviors.

“We’ve learned that frequent indoor tanners viewed skin cancer as something that might happen later in life,” said Dr. Joel Hillhouse, professor of Community and Behavioral Health in ETSU’s College of Public Health. “Tanning represents a trade-off for these young women, with a short-term gain of having a tan along with a potential long-term risk of cancer.”

Hillhouse, the lead author in the article, said the perceptions that skin cancer happens only later in life are false, citing a recent study which reported the incidence of melanoma in young women is increasing faster than any other cancer in any age group.

“Interestingly, that parallels the increase in indoor tanning behaviors we are seeing among that same population,” he added.

More than 400 female students from ETSU and at another college in the Northeast participated in the study. Hillhouse presented each of them with a 24-page pamphlet that he and his research colleagues developed. The pamphlet presented information on indoor tanning, tanning in general, and the effects it has on the skin. Each subject was asked to keep a journal and record her tanning behaviors in the weeks that followed.

At the conclusion of the study, the young women who received the pamphlet had reduced their tanning behaviors on the average by 35 percent; many stopped altogether.

Noteworthy, Hillhouse said, was that the most significant decrease in tanning occurred among those who tanned heaviest.

“While the booklet showed the potential adverse outcomes associated with indoor tanning, we also dedicated time to educating them about alternatives to tanning, such as non-ultraviolet tanning, sprays and mists, as well as fashion and exercise,” Hillhouse said. “We based this on the behavioral alternative theory whereby an unhealthy behavior is replaced with a positive one.”

Hillhouse’s research was funded through a $1.3 million grant from the American Cancer Society.

Other authors of the paper are Dr. Rob Turrisi and Jerod Stapleton of Pennsylvania State University at University Park and Dr. June Robinson of Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago.

  

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