Tanning Teens Rationalize Risky Behavior

By Amir Khan on June 21, 2012 11:08 AM EDT

Tanning Booth
Teens and young adults know the risks of tanning, but rationalize the behavior to themselves, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Teens and young adults know the risks of tanning, but rationalize the behavior to themselves, according to a new study, published in the Archives of Dermatology on Monday. Teens understand that tanning beds are dangerous, but don't see them as a larger danger than other activities, researchers said.

Researchers questioned 600 university students about their feelings towards tannings and found that of those who used a tanning bed, 59 percent agreed with the statement "Tanning bed use can make me ill, but everything causes cancer these days."  In addition, 52 percent agreed with the statement "Tanning bed use is no more risky than lots of other things that people do."

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Very few students agreed with statements that espoused the dangers of skin cancer, researchers said. They added that this line of thinking is dangerous.

"The type of thinking that there is danger all around you, and hence unavoidable, is a common way of justifying risky behaviors,"Smita Banerjee, a behavioral scientist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, told MSNBC. "Of course, the flaw to such thinking is the assumption that all dangers pose the same level of threat or harm."

Better understanding why teens rationalize their risky behavior will "allow health care professionals to create awareness messages that connect better and provide a stronger mitigating effect," Banerjee said.

Too much tanning is linked to skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"A recent study reported that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma," Dr. Jerry Brewer, a dermatologist with the Mayo Clinic, said in a statement.

Melanoma is a tumor of the cells that produce the pigment melanin, which is responsible for the color of your skin. Although melanoma occurs predominantly on skin, it can occur anywhere melanin is found, such as the eye or bowel. It is much less common than other skin cancers, but is responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths, killing about 48,000 people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization.  Melanoma deaths account for $3.5 billion in lost productivity every year, according to the CDC.

In addition to UV exposure, risk factors for melanoma include having many moles or moles that have an abnormal shape or color, fair skin, freckling, and light hair, a family history of melanoma, and having received a severe or blistering sunburn as a child or teen, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is one of the best methods of prevention against melanoma and other kinds of skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing sunglasses, hats and seeking shade during midday hours also helps.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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