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Many still combine sunless tanning with risky sun behaviors

The sun is bad for your health – well… at least it is in some ways. Although vitamin D is a beneficial addition to the warmth that sunlight brings, too much time in the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer. That’s why many skin tanning sprays, ointments, creams, foams, and lotions are advertising their ability to tan skin without increasing your risk of skin cancer. But researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and University of Minnesota Health wanted to see if people who use these products actually avoid outdoor sunbathing or indoor tanning.

Matthew Mansh, MD, a resident in the Department of Dermatology at University of Minnesota Medical School wanted to determine whether or not he should be recommending sunless tanners to his patients. That is why he and his colleagues sought to investigate the demographic characteristics of skin cancer risk behaviors of adult sunless tanners in the U.S.

In a study published in JAMA Dermatology, they assessed whether adults who used sunless tanning products were able to reduce risky behaviors such as indoor and outdoor tanning.

With over 27,000 adults participating in this study, only about 6.4 percent reported sunless tanning. This behavior was most common among young, white college-educated females and gay and bisexual men. Additional factors linked to sunless tanning included living in the Western United States and having a family history of skin cancer.

The results showed that adults who use these products still continue to engage in risky tanning behaviors. They were actually 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. It appears that most people use sunless tanning products to supplement their risky tanning behaviors, rather than replace them.

Most evidence supports that sunless tanning products are safe to use and do not cause skin cancer,” says Mansh. “However, these 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. Our study casts doubt on whether that assumption is true and suggests that sunless tanning products could inadvertently reinforce desires to achieve tanned skin.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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