The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal

MAY 2015

The 2012 edition of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal features medically reviewed, reader-friendly articles such as tanning, the increasing incidence of skin cancer diagnoses among young women, & the prevalence of melanoma among white males over 50.

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Page 55 of 115

Social psychologists Rick Gibbons, PhD, and Meg Gerrard, PhD, professors and researchers at the University of Connecticut, have devoted extensive study to understanding why people tan, despite the increased risks for skin can- cer. The answer, it turns out, is complex and depends on gender, age and other factors. Renowned experts in health risk behavior, the married couple has looked at the tanning and sun protection behaviors of various groups from teens to outdoor highway workers in Iowa. Here are their answers to The Skin Cancer Foun- dation's questions about why different people tan and how they can be convinced to stop. SCF: A few years ago, tanning seemed to be declining in popularity, as celebrities, beauty editors, and others of influence were speaking out about the need to embrace one's natural skin color and the importance of sun protec- tion and tanning avoidance. Is the pendulum swinging back toward tanning? If so, why? There has been some pendulum swinging in the last two to three decades, which reflects increasing awareness of the risks (premature aging, skin cancer, eye damage) of tanning and UV exposure. However, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding decline in the underlying motive for tanning—the belief that we all look better with a tan. Although this perspective has also waxed and waned over the years, it's well-ingrained in us. A small part of that may be due to social media—with "selfies" and instant-access iPhone cameras, etc., our photos are everywhere. We are op- timistic that attitudes toward appearance will slowly shift away from tan is beautiful, but it is going to take a while and a concerted effort. SCF: Do people tan because they're unaware of the dangers, or do they tan despite the dangers? Most people—tanners, non-tanners, young and old—are aware of the dangers of UV exposure. For young people, those dangers seem very distant; for many of them, the ap- peal of looking good now trumps concerns about having wrinkles or even cancer 25-30 years from now. For older people, having some personal experience with a loved one or friend diagnosed with skin cancer is a strong motivator toward protection. But those who have made it through their lives so far without skin cancer may falsely believe they're in the clear. Our research has shown that some older people develop "absent-ex- empt" thinking: "I have been tanning a while (and/or haven't been using sunscreen much) and I haven't gotten skin cancer (and my Aunt Trudi did it for > 50 years without developing skin cancer), so I must be immune." We have seen evidence of such thinking among elderly persons (out by the pool) in Florida and California. SCF: How important is peer influence? We don't believe there is a lot of direct peer influence, in the sense that a friend encour- ages tanning like they might encourage smoking marijuana. But social influence does play a role, some of it indirect. First, tanning is often a social exercise (e.g., going to the beach). We even suspect there may be some "competitive tanning" in the sense of "let's see who can get the darkest." Similarly, young people are more likely to show off their ex- posed skin/bodies, and being pale would be aversive when others around them are tan. A more subtle kind of social influence is also very common: many social events for young people involve situations in which one's friends fail to protect themselves on sunny outings — they don't bring hats or sunscreen. So, if you do bring these items, you will be the only one in the group protecting yourself. This kind of social pressure is often difficult for a teen to resist. SCF: How much of frequent tanning is choice, and how much addiction? The jury is still out on this, but most research- ers do believe there is an element of addic- tion for some (not most) tanners. Studies have provided evidence of what might be called a John Boehner effect, in that some people go through something akin to with- drawal when not tanning. They also experience WHY DO WE TAN? | HOW DO WE STOP? | Meg Gerrard, PhD, and Rick Gibbons, PhD why do we tan? For the latest information and updates go to:

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