Young people * Women's health * Healthy living

Women more scared of wrinkles than skin cancer

Women more scared of wrinkles than skin cancer Fear of leathery skin cuts sunbed use

Young women are more scared of getting wrinkles than deadly skin cancer, new research has found.

A new study found the best way to get young women to cut back on visits to tanning salons is to warn them they cause leathery wrinkled skin, rather than malignant melanoma.

"They're not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive," said June Robinson, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study involved 435 female college students who regularly used tanning salons, some up to four times a week. All were given a booklet which explained the effect of tanning on the skin and how ultraviolet rays destroy the skin's collagen, making the it more wrinkly.

One group of women said they used tanning salons because they hated the natural pale colour of their skin. Another group who said tanning made them feel happier and more relaxed showed symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) on a psychological test.

"They were self medicating their own depression," said Professor Robinson, adding that lying in a tanning bed produces internal opioids.

After six months, visits to tanning salons had fallen by 35 per cent, and some women stopped going altogether.

"The fear of looking horrible trumped everything else," Professor Robinson said. "It was the most persuasive intervention, regardless of why they were going to tan."

The booklet also suggested other ways to improve appearance such as using fake tan, clothes which don't require a tan to look good in and taking exercise classes.

Dr Joel Hillhouse from East Tennessee State University who wrote the book used in the study, advised parents concerned about indoor tanning: "Don't focus on skin cancer. The message that will get young women's attention is indoor tanning's long-term effect on their appearance. That will wake them up and get them to think about this."

Professor Robinson stressed it was also important to offer women alternatives to tanning salons. "You have to balance the positive and the negative forces that motivate someone to change," she said. "First you have the fear that they will look horrible, then you offer a positive – an alternative to meet their needs."

The findings are published in the Archives of Dermatology

This article was published on Fri 21 May 2010

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