Tanning Bed Use Tied to Risky Behavior in Men

Since the stereotypical tanning salon client is a young woman, most research and health messages on tanning focus on that demographic. But a new study by researchers at the University of Connecticut finds that one in three people who use tanning beds in the U.S. are male, and men who tan tend to engage in other risky behaviors.

The findings show that men who tan report using tanning beds with about the same frequency as women, but smoke and binge drink at higher rates than their female counterparts. They also tend to treat tanning more like an addiction than women do, say the researchers. In fact, 49 percent of men who used tanning beds fit a pattern of addictive behavior regarding tanning.

“That was really surprising,” says lead author Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist. “If they tan with the same frequency as women, why would tanning in men be more addictive?”

The research team conducted a national survey of 636 people who answered “yes” when asked whether they had ever used a tanning bed. They asked the respondents about frequency of use, preferred locations to tan, how they felt about tanning, and why they did it.

The differences between men and women were marked. According to the findings, women prefer to tan in salons, and say they value low cost, cleanliness, and convenience, while men who who tan prefer less regulated settings, such as gyms or private homes. Tanning men say they like to tan to accentuate their muscles, or as a reward after working out. These men also reported smoking tobacco, binge drinking alcohol, and drinking soda significantly more often than women who tan.

Many men also answered “yes” when asked if they ever felt anxious if they weren’t able to tan, tanned to relieve stress, or spent money on tanning even when they couldn’t afford it. They agreed with statements such as “I’d like to quit but I keep going back to it.”

There’s a population of men who tan and also participate in other risky behaviors and are very unlike the young women that health educators assume are at risk of tanning bed health impacts, says Pagoto.

The researchers are working on another study to delve more deeply into who tans, asking questions about sexual orientation, given that recent research has shown that homosexual men are just as likely to use tanning beds as young women. The research should help health officials trying to warn the public of the significant link between tanning beds and skin cancer, she says.

Sun lamps and tanning beds are legal for adult use in all 50 states, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them as a Class 1 carcinogen like tobacco, radon, and arsenic, and the use of tanning beds has been linked to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Most health messages target teen- and college-aged women, according to Pagoto. Men who tan are unlikely to relate to that type of message. Pagoto is now using social media marketing principles to develop prevention messages that resonate with specific audience segments.

“We’re also hoping to spread the message on college campuses, since the tanning industry heavily markets to college students,” she says.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, should help public health officials rethink how, and to whom, they’re targeting anti-tanning messages.

Source: University of Connecticut