Study reveals motivation behind ‘sunbed’ use

by Gary Finnegan – World Health Matters (Germany) – Millions of people in Europe, the US and elsewhere use tanning beds every year ignoring the risk of skin cancer – but why? This was the question German researchers set out to answer as part of a telephone survey reported in the Archives of Dermatology journal.

The study by scientists at the Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine at Heidelberg University, asked 4,851 individuals whether they used tanning salons and what motivated them to do so. Participants were aged between 14 and 45; 50.9% were men and 49.1% were women.

They found that almost 40% of those surveyed had used a sunbed at some time while 14.6% had used one in the past 12 months.

Exposure to UV radiation (UVR) is one of the main risk factors for developing skin cancer and tanning beds are a common source of UVR. In spite of these well-documented risks, young people in particular continue to use tanning salons.

“The prevalence of 14- to 45-year-olds in Germany who have used sunbeds at some point was 39.2 percent, and every seventh person in this age group had used a sunbed during the last 12 months. A particularly large percentage of women, adolescents, immigrants and the employed reported using solariums,” lead author Dr Sven Schneider said.

People with paler skin were less likely to use sunbeds than those with darker complexions, the study found. The main motivations reported by those surveyed were for “relaxation and attractiveness”. The researchers said this could help to identify targets for interventions to prevent skin cancer.

“For example, such interventions could target occupations in which predominantly younger women work because working women are particularly likely to use sunbeds. Furthermore, the relationship between current sunbed use and immigrant background indicates a specific need for the education of this population subgroup,” the authors said.

Dr Schnieder and colleagues also called for standardised education for tanning salon personnel, provided by independent institutions not associated with the sunbed industry. The authors note that staff members often fail to inform sunbed users that their motivations for tanning are “not medically sound”.