Can sunless tanning prevent skin cancer? Maybe not.

Can sunless tanning prevent skin cancer? Maybe not.

In a recent study from University of Minnesota, researchers find that sunless tanning may not help protect people from skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

Nowadays many advertisements, articles and reports make bold statements regarding sunless tanning products—sprays, ointments, creams, foams, or lotions that promise tan skin without the increased risk of skin cancer that goes along with outdoor sunbathing or indoor tanning.

But, do people who use sunless tanning products actually avoid these “bad” behaviors? Few studies have investigated this topic before.

To answer the question and to know whether they should recommend sunless tanners to patients, the researchers conducted the study.

They assessed the demographic characteristics and skin cancer risk behaviors of adult sunless tanners in the United States.

They wanted to find out if adults who used sunless tanning products were able to reduce risky behaviors such as indoor and outdoor tanning. They found little evidence they did.

More than 27,000 adults were part of this study—about 6.4% reported sunless tanning.

The team found that sunless tanning was most common among young, white, college-educated females and gay and bisexual men.

Other factors associated with sunless tanning included living in the Western United States and having a family history of skin cancer.

Adults who used sunless tanning products were were more likely to use indoor tanning beds and report a recent sunburn and were less likely to wear protective clothing or seek shade when outdoors.

Among people who used indoor tanning beds—which are known to cause skin cancer—sunless tanning product users actually visited tanning salons more frequently than those who did not.

The researchers suggest that sunless tanning products can only be effective at reducing skin cancer rates if they are able to help people disengage in risky behaviors such as indoor tanning or outdoor sunbathing.

Their study casts doubt on whether that assumption is true and suggests that sunless tanning products could inadvertently reinforce desires to achieve tanned skin.

Matthew Mansh, MD, Resident in the Department of Dermatology, University of Minnesota Medical School and University of Minnesota Health, is the lead author.

The study is published in JAMA Dermatology.

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Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.
Journal reference: “Characteristics and Skin Cancer Risk Behaviors of Adult Sunless Tanners in the United States,” Matthew Mansh etal. JAMA Dermatology, 2008.