Daughters often get first tanning salon experience with mom

Many girls who begin going to tanning salons before they turn 16 don't bring along friends or go alone. Instead, they tan with their mothers, a U.S. study suggests.More than half of indoor tanners start before they're 21 years old, and about one ...

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Many girls who begin going to tanning salons before they turn 16 don’t bring along friends or go alone. Instead, they tan with their mothers, a U.S. study suggests.

More than half of indoor tanners start before they’re 21 years old, and about one third of them begin before age 18, researchers report in JAMA Dermatology.

About 45 percent of youth who start tanning before age 16 go with a family member. For 54 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys, that family member is mom.

“We were surprised at how common it is for a family member, usually the mother, to take their daughters under 16 to an indoor tanning facility for the first time,” said lead study author Meg Watson, a cancer researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We were just as surprised to find that most older teens and young adults got their first indoor tan with a friend,” Watson said by email.


Tanning at younger ages is associated with more frequent tanning and an increased risk of skin cancer, the study authors note.

An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. use tanning beds at least once a year, and they have approximately 25,000 tanning salons nationwide to choose from, according to another study recently published in the Journal of Cancer Policy.

For the current research, Watson and her colleagues examined data from surveys completed by 252 male and 725 female indoor tanners to understand how early in life they had started and who might have gone with them on their first visits to the tanning salon.

Among youth who started using salons at ages 16 or 17, about 42 percent went alone and roughly 32 percent went with a friend, the study found. Only 20 percent of teens this age went with a family member.

Between ages 18 and 20, 49 percent of first-time tanners went alone and 36 percent brought a friend along.

From age 21 on, 72 percent of indoor tanners started out going alone.

The study adds to research suggesting that mothers may have an outsized influence on whether young people try tanning salons, said Dr. Elizabeth Martin, president of Pure Dermatology and Aesthetics in Hoover, Alabama, and a clinical instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

“This study strengthens what we already know, further demonstrating the importance of family attitudes and permissiveness toward tanning, and also shows the particular importance of maternal attitudes and permissiveness on the tanning behavior of those who begin tanning before the age of 16,” Martin, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.


At least while teens still live at home, tanning may be easier for parents to spot and address compared to other risk behaviors like drinking or smoking, said Dr. Kathleen Cook Suozzi, a dermatology researcher at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“I think the message for parents is clear: educate your kids early and often about the dangers of indoor tanning,” Suozzi said by email.

“Unlike other clandestine behaviors that our youth engage in, indoor tanning leaves a conspicuous sign - a tan,” Suozzi added. “If your child appears tan in the winter, or before an event like prom, chances are high that they are engaging in indoor tanning.”

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