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Sunburns Common in Young Women Who Tan Indoors

Nearly 1 in 5 Tanning Sessions Causes Sunburn; More Than 1 in 3 Tanners Don't Wear Goggles, Study Says
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 3, 2012 -- Getting sunburned or red skin is common among college-aged women who visit tanning salons during the winter months, a new study shows.

Researchers found that nearly 1 out of every 5 sessions of indoor tanning led to a skin redness or burn in freshman and sophomore females who wanted bronzer skin tones.

"Our results show that sunburn is a common occurrence related to tanning bed use," researcher Jerod Stapleton, PhD, says in a news release. He is a behavioral scientist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

"This is particularly worrisome, given data that suggest sunburns increase future skin cancer risk," Stapleton says.

For the study, researchers asked 198 female college students to keep an online diary of their indoor tanning sessions. The diaries were filed six times over a 12-week period from mid-January to late March, which are typically the most popular months for tanning bed use.

Other studies of indoor tanning have relied on people's long-term memories of the experience, but these results were based on data from recently completed diaries describing their tanning sessions in 14-day intervals.

The women attended college either in the Northeast or Southeast, and all had previously reported getting an indoor tan at least once in the last year prior to the study.

The study was published online in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine. 

Getting Burned by Tanning

During the 12-week study period, the women reported 1,429 indoor tanning sessions. Each tanning visit lasted about 14 minutes.

Three-quarters of the women did not wear any clothing during the tanning session, and nearly 39% did not wear goggles to protect their eyes.

The women reported that 1 in 5 tanning sessions resulted in red skin or sunburn.

About two-thirds of the women had at least one episode of sunburn or skin redness from an indoor tanning visit; about half reported two or more episodes, and slightly more than one-third of them reported red skin or sunburn three or more times.

Researchers also wanted to determine whether indoor tanning frequency or a woman's skin type influenced her chances of getting burned.

Women who described their skin as more sun sensitive were also more likely to sunburn, despite an awareness of a greater susceptibility to it.

More experienced indoor tanners had a lower risk of getting sunburned even though they had more tanning visits during the study. Researchers suspect that more frequent indoor tanners learn how to adjust their UV exposure to prevent burning compared to less frequent indoor tanners who might not take these steps.

Although this study only looked at young women, this age group has a high rate of indoor tanning use. Since many indoor tanners are unwilling to give up the practice, researchers suggest that a different educational method might be tried to protect their skin's health and appearance.

"Clinicians may want to focus on the importance of avoiding sunburn as part of a harm-reduction approach," Stapleton says.

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