Too many Americans are ignoring the dangers of indoor tanning, or they are unaware of the dangers, as evident by the number of people who do it and the fact that most don't acknowledge it increases their risk of skin cancer.

Indoor tanning does, in fact, increase the risk of skin cancer, and may speed up the aging process in skin, causing wrinkles. Despite this, a new survey released today found that 18 percent of women and more than 6 percent of men said they have gone indoor tanning at least once in the previous year.

"It's the popularity of indoor tanning that's alarming," study author Dr. Kelvin Choi of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis told Reuters Health.

And when he and his colleagues asked a subset of participants to list the steps people could take to reduce their risk of skin cancer, only 13 percent of women - and even fewer men - said skip indoor tanning.

Indoor tanning was most popular among young women. More than 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18 and 24, and 1 in 4 between the ages of 25 and 34, said they tanned indoors.
The popularity of indoor tanning among young women may explain why more and more women under the age of 40 are being diagnosed with skin cancer, Choi noted.

"Simply avoiding indoor tanning booths and beds is just the simplest way to reduce the risk of getting skin cancer," he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 million people were diagnosed with skin cancer last year, and nearly 9,000 people died of the rare - but deadliest - form of the disease, melanoma.

A study published earlier this year concluded that indoor tanning beds sharply increase the risk of melanoma, and the risk increases over time. Indeed, the World Health Organization classifies tanning beds as a human carcinogen.

Meanwhile, the indoor tanning business is booming, bringing in more than $5 billion per year and 30 million customers, mostly women.

To investigate how well people appreciate the risks of indoor tanning, Choi and his colleagues reviewed responses collected from 2,869 people about their use of indoor tanning in the previous year. One-third of participants also listed what they thought were the most important things people could do to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Women who were younger, more educated, lived in the South or Midwest, and used spray tanning products were more likely to say they tanned indoors. Men who lived in metropolitan areas and used spray tanning were also more likely to report the behavior.

The fact that people used both spray tanning and indoor tanning was surprising, Choi said in an interview. "So it's not like they are using spray tanning products as a replacement for tanning indoors."

The findings, reported in the Archives of Dermatology, suggest many people may not realize the risks of indoor tanning, or wrongly believe it has benefits, Choi added.

For instance, a common misconception is that indoor tanning protects you from sun damage by providing a base tan, and can be a safe source of vitamin D. Both are false. "The so-called base tan is a sign of sun damage," and some research suggests it simply adds to the damage people get from additional outdoor sun, Choi said.

Even though younger women were drawn to indoor tanning, Dr. Alan Geller, senior lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said in an e-mail he was surprised to see so many older women adopt the behavior, including between 14 and 17 percent of those between the ages of 35 and 54.

"The fact that tanning bed use and spray tan use co-exists makes me think that we need strong public health campaigns that counter some of the strong and pervasive tan-promoting attitudes," said Geller, who reviewed the findings for Reuters Health.