Sunburns, Tanning Beds: Young Adults at Risk

Low Sunscreen Use in People Under 30; Indoor Tanning Most Common in White Women

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012 -- Two new reports from the CDC are shedding more light on just how many young people may be soaking up ultraviolet (UV) rays -- whether it's outdoors or UV rays from indoor tanning.

And there are signs of some worrisome trends: The sun-seeking habits of young men and women, along with their inadequate sun protection strategies, are putting them at greater risk for skin cancer.

The first study looked at trends among young people ages 18 to 29 between the years 2000 and 2010. It found that about 66% of whites in this age group had gotten at least one sunburn in the past year.

Researchers also found a low rate of regular sunscreen use among young adults. Only 37% of women ages 18 to 29 and about 16% of men in this age group said they always used sunscreen or used it most of the time.

Who Tans Indoors?

A second study tracked the number of adults in the U.S. who had tried indoor tanning at least one time in 2010. It looked at who had used a sunlamp, sun bed, or tanning booth, and how often they turned to these methods.

After reviewing data from more than 25,000 adults who had participated in the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that indoor tanning was most common among women, whites, and young adults.

The findings show that nearly 6% of the adults surveyed had tried an indoor tanning device at least once that year. Young adults ages 18 to 29 had the highest use rates of indoor tanning compared to all other age groups.

The group most likely to attempt to bronze their skin indoors was 18- to 21-year-old white women. Those in this group who used indoor tanning devices averaged nearly 28 sessions a year. White women in the Midwest in this age group were the highest users of indoor tanning with 44% of them trying it at least once during the year.

The second-highest users were 22- to 25-year-old white women in the South at 36%. Indoor tanning before age 35 increases a person's risk for melanoma by 75%.

Other findings from the two reports include:

  • Among white adults who had used indoor tanning in the past year, nearly 58% of women and 40% of men said they did it 10 or more times.
  • African-American women were less likely to use sunscreen compared with people of other races or ethnicities.
  • Men were most likely to wear long pants as their top sun-shielding strategy; women were more likely to use sunscreen or stay in the shade.

Both studies appear in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.