The good and bad of sunless tanning lotions

Fall may be here at last, but for many people, the quest for the perfect tan will continue no matter what the weather is outside. Those efforts involve behaviors that increase ultraviolet radiation exposure and heighten the risk of skin cancer.

The current issue of the Archives of Dermatology has two studies that look at the impact of sunless tanning products on such behaviors. It turns out that education about UV dangers and tanning lotions can reduce risky behaviors in adults. But adolescents are harder to reach, and are more likely to expose themselves to unsafe levels of UV radiation.

In the first study, women recruited at a public beach were encouraged to limit sunbathing time using free sunless tanning lotion, skin cancer education, and UV photographs that showed damaged skin. These efforts significantly reduced dangerous behavior.

But a survey of adolescents aged 11 to 18 years old found that nearly 11 percent who used sunless tanning products were more likely to engage in “dangerous” activities such as engaging in indoor tanning, using less sunscreen, and becoming sunburned more often. Both studies were published in the September issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

In the first study, researchers recruited 250 women from two public beaches in July and June 2006. Those at one beach were given a free sample of a sunless tanning product, given a pamphlet on skin cancer, encouraged to use sunless tanning lotions as opposed to sunbathing, and were shown UV photographs of melanin deposits on the skin that had possible sun damage. The women on the second beach filled completed a questionnaire and were given cosmetic samples.

The researchers followed up at two months later and a full year later with all the participants and found that the group at the first beach reduced their sunbathing significantly and reported significantly fewer cases of sunburn. Those differences remained significant one year later.

In the survey of adolescents, the researchers polled a nationally representative sample of 1,600 11- to 18-year-olds about their use of sunless tanning products and behaviors related to UV radiation exposure. They found that 10.8 percent of the children used tanning lotions – they tended to be older and female – and the use of those products “was associated with risky UV radiation exposure-related behaviors.”

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