Original Research

Tanning Attitudes and Behaviors in Adolescents and Young Adults

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Skin cancer rates have been steadily increasing over the last 20 years despite persistent efforts to educate the public on skin cancer prevention and sun safety. Adolescents and young adults are an especially important demographic to reach, as increased UV exposure during these years leads to greatly increased risks of developing skin cancer. Our survey aims to investigate the attitudes and behaviors regarding sun protection and tanning among adolescents and young adults (age range, 13–27 years).


  • Dermatologists are the preferred educators of skin care for adolescents and young adults.
  • Social media is an underused medium for skin cancer prevention education and can reach those who do not regularly see a dermatologist.
  • Education of young people focusing on their concerns about maintaining a youthful appearance instead of the possibility of developing skin cancer in the future might be more effective.



Intentional tanning—through sun exposure and tanning beds—is an easily avoidable contributor to skin cancer development and an important area for public education. Since the advent of social media, a correlation between social media use and increased indoor tanning behaviors has been reported.1 In 2010, 11.3% of US adults aged 18 to 29 years reported using a tanning bed in the last 12 months.2 The American Academy of Dermatology first published their “Position Statement on Indoor Tanning” in 1998, endorsing a ban on the sale of indoor tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes.3

Although there has been no outright ban on indoor tanning, regulations have been put in place in many states—including Texas, where (as of 2013) a person younger than 18 years must have written consent from their parent(s) to use a tanning bed. Despite efforts of organizations including the American Academy of Dermatology and the government to educate the public on skin cancer prevention and sun safety, the skin cancer rate has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years.

There is a constant campaign among dermatologists to educate their patients on how to reduce or avoid the risk for skin cancer, including the use of sunscreen and avoidance of tanning. Adolescents and young adults are an especially important demographic to reach and educate because increased UV light exposure during these years leads to a greatly increased risk for skin cancer later in life.4 Data on the overall prevalence of tanning and the demographics of participation in tanning activities are important to capture and can be used to efficiently target higher-risk populations.

In this study, we aimed to investigate the attitudes and behaviors of adolescents and young adults regarding sun protection and tanning. We also aimed to determine which avenues, including social media, would be most effective at educating about skin cancer awareness and sun protection to the higher-risk younger population.

Materials and Methods

We developed an institutional review board–approved protocol for the prospective collection of data from registered patients at the dermatology clinic of the Mays Cancer Center at the University of Texas Health at San Antonio. A paper survey containing 15 rating-scale questions was administered to 60 patients aged 13 to 27 years. Surveys were administered during intake, prior to the patients’ visit with a dermatologist; all visits were of a functional (not cosmetic) nature. Data collection spanned June to August 2018. Survey results were entered into Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap) software for qualitative analysis.


Sixty patients responded to the survey. The mean age of respondents was 19.5 years. No surveys were excluded from the data set. Table 1 provides baseline characteristics of respondents. Some respondents left questions unanswered, resulting in questions with fewer than 60 responses.

Among respondents to the survey, 70% (42/60) reported it is very important to protect their skin from sun exposure, and 30% (18/60) reported it is somewhat important. Regarding sunscreen use, 70% (42/60) indicated they use sunscreen only before outdoor activities, 12% (7/60) use sunscreen daily, and 17% (10/60) never use sunscreen. Of those who use sunscreen, 52% (28/54) do so to prevent skin damage and aging and 44% (24/54) to prevent skin cancer. Twenty-three percent (13/56) of respondents reported finding tanned skin attractive; 26% (14/55) reported wanting to be tan. Looking at race, 28% (10/36) of Whites, 25% (5/20) of Spanish/Hispanic/Latinos, and 22% (2/9) of Asians found tanned skin attractive; no Black respondents found tanned skin attractive.


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