Use of Indoor Tanning Beds Elevate Skin Cancer Risk Among Varying Ethnic Groups

New at-risk group for skin cancer identified.

Non-heterosexual, black, male teens use indoor tanning beds nearly as much as heterosexual white female teens, according to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology.

“Contrary to popular thought, racial and ethnic minorities engage in indoor tanning and it appears to be particularly concentrated among sexual-minority adolescent boys,” said investigator Aaron Blashill.

For the study, the investigators gathered data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to examine the prevalence of risky health behaviors among 9th to 12th grade public and private school students.

Prior studies have shown sexual-minority males have one of the highest skin cancer prevalence rates, which doubles the risk found in heterosexual males.

There is also a misconception over why individuals with dark skin would want to use indoor tanning beds, stemming from the lack of understanding as to why people tan to begin with, according to the study.

“Many only think of indoor tanning as something people do to darken their skin, so the idea that a black individual would tan at all is hard for some to grasp,” Blashill said. “But if we think of indoor tanning as a coping strategy, then the findings begin to make more sense.”

Since UV exposure can induce relaxation through natural opioids released in the brain, Blashill hypothesizes that non-heterosexual black and Hispanic teenage boys may engage in indoor tanning to help with psychological distress, which could be the result of prejudice, discrimination, and victimization based on sexual orientation and/or race/ethnicity.

California and several other states have taken steps to reduce skin cancer incidence by banning minors from indoor tanning bed use. However, Blashill said such measures are not 100% effective.

“It is important to understand what’s driving indoor tanning among these boys so we can develop future skin cancer prevention and education campaigns targeted at the high-risk group,” Blashill said.

To determine if there are similar findings among college-aged and young adults, Blashill is working on a follow-up study to evaluate indoor tanning use among sexual-minority males aged 14 to 35 years, in San Diego County, CA.