I have never understood the appeal of tanning.† This is born of a triple fear of cancer, leathery skin, and turning permanently orange.† I didn’t know until I read this article, however, that people tan for reasons other than appearance; apparently tanning can result in opiate-like qualities in some, which can help cope with depression, as well as cause dependence or addiction.† This added incentive makes it doubly difficult to articulate the danger of tanning; and a new study reveals that the methods that do work may be quite troubling.
A researcher at a Tennessee university conducted an appearance-based intervention that had staggeringly good results in convincing college women to stop tanning.† Women who tanned because they wanted to alter their physical appearance were influenced by the study, but so were women who tanned because of the opiate-like effects (and who were more likely to be addicted to tanning).† The intervention itself consisted of a booklet which listed the adverse effects of tanning; not cancer, but rather the damaging impact on the way that their skin would look.
“Providing young patients who tan with information on the damaging effects of tanning on their appearance is effective even if they are addicted to tanning or using it to ameliorate depression symptoms,” the researchers explained.† They also claimed that because this was a “novel” strategy, tanners may have been more easily swayed.
So why is this potentially troubling, if it seems to convince people to stop a damaging practice?† After all, people who begin to use tanning beds before the age of 30 have a 30 to 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, than those who do not. And even one session in a tanning bed significantly increases a personís chance of developing cancer.† But the people who are addicted to tanning have also been shown to have higher tendencies toward alcoholism, anxiety, and drug addictions.† Focusing on negative impact on skin appearance, rather than the reasons behind tanning addiction, may not serve the tanners as well as we think.† And it certainly perpetuates the idea of a normatively beautiful type of skin.
“Young women spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance,” the lead researcher explained. “By pointing out how [indoor tanning] will actually hurt their appearance, we are able to get them interested and thinking about the behavior in a new way.”
This study is interesting, simply because it shows how easily college women can be influenced by apparent threats to their beauty.† But it also worries me that this is the most effective strategy for cutting down on tanning, especially since it seems in some cases to indicate much larger personal problems.† What does it say if young women are more afraid of wrinkles than cancer?† These researchers don’t seem to care.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.