The Grapevine

Sunless Tan Doesn't Take Away Risk Of Cancer

Researchers from the University of Minnesota (UMN) examined data on thousands of Americans who used sunless tanners to understand demographic characteristics and the potential for behaviors that could increase their risk of skin cancer.

The study titled "Characteristics and Skin Cancer Risk Behaviors of Adult Sunless Tanners in the United States" was published in JAMA Dermatology on July 25.

Getting a tan by exposing oneself to the sun is a form of skin damage. Exposure to UV radiation will lead to an increase in the production of melanin, causing the skin to darken over the following 48 hours.

The practice has been associated with an increased risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. To avoid these dangers, many chose to switch over to sunless methods such as spray-on mist tans and self-tanner lotions. While the long-term effects of these products remain unknown, experts believe they are externally safe to use. 

"If the chemical stays on the skin and doesn’t get inhaled with the sprayer and you put it on in a lotion form and the skin is intact, in general, we feel like it’s safe," said New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Anita Cela.

The research team tracked over 27,000 adults in the United States to examine their tanning behaviors. Overall, roughly 6.4 percent reported using sunless tanning products.

Users of the products were more likely to be young, white, college-educated women, gay men, and bisexual men. Living in the Western United States and having a family history of skin cancer were among the other factors associated with sunless tanning.

"For the most part, adults who use sunless tanning products continue to engage in risky tanning behaviors," said lead researcher Dr. Matthew D. Mansh from the department of dermatology at University of Minnesota Medical School.

According to the findings, these behaviors included the decreased use of shade and protective clothing when the person was outside. Users of sunless tanning products were also found to visit tanning salons more frequently than those who did not use the products. 

Salons offer indoor tanning, a service that typically involves booths or beds that emit UV radiation. Studies have linked this method of tanning to more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer among Americans each year.

There is also a common misconception that sunless tanning products contain sunscreen, which may lead to individuals forgoing the product. "Sunscreen and protective clothing should always be used in conjunction with sunless tanners," said board-certified dermatologist Arielle Kauvar. "They don’t provide adequate protection from UV rays."

In conclusion, the authors explained that sunless tanning could only reduce the risk of skin cancer if people disengaged themselves from these risk behaviors.

"When counseling patients, dermatologists should be aware of the limited evidence that sunless tanning use is associated with significant improvement in skin cancer risk behaviors," they wrote.