MONDAY, Dec. 19, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Young women who get their tan out of a bottle may spend less time sunbathing or using tanning beds, two riskier behaviors, according to a new study.
Using a sunless tanning product is a safe alternative to ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure, which is linked to skin cancer and premature aging, the researchers said. They found that women who used tanning products most often reduced their overall UV-tanning time.
With a bottled tan, "there is no DNA damage," said lead author Dr. Suephy Chen, an associate professor of dermatology at Emory University in Atlanta. "The product adheres to the top layer of the skin that sheds anyway."
Although some dermatologists believe promoting pale skin is a better way to reduce the risk of skin cancer, Chen disagrees with that approach.
Getting people to stop tanning is really hard, Chen said. "There are a lot of societal pressures, and it has been going on for decades, so why not provide a safer way to achieve the same appearance," she said.
The report was published in the Dec. 19 online edition of the Archives of Dermatology.
For the study, Chen's team surveyed more than 400 women, age 18 and older, about their use of sunless tanning products and their tanning habits.
Almost 50 percent said they had used sunless tanning products at least once in the last year. Most had used self-applied products, with 9 percent saying they got a professionally applied spray tan. The products were used by women of all ages, the researchers noted.
More than 70 percent said they had tanned in the sun in the past year, 26 percent said they had used a tanning bed and about one-quarter said they did both, Chen's group found.
However, among those who used tanning products and tanned in the sun, about 37 percent said they had reduced their sun time. Among women who used both tanning products and tanning beds, 38 percent said they had cut back on time spent in tanning beds because of their bottled tan, the researchers found.
Women who used sunless tanning products at least five times in the previous year spent 52 percent less time sunbathing, while women who used these products less often reduced sun exposure by 18 percent, the study found.
Tanning bed use was reduced more than 50 percent among women who used tanning products frequently, compared with about 24 percent among women who used the tanning products less often, the researchers said.
Most women surveyed (about 93 percent) believe tanned skin is more attractive than pale skin, and more than 79 percent said they felt better about themselves when tan, the researchers found.
The dangers of UV exposure are well-documented, and skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the United States. Two years ago, the World Health Organization put UV tanning beds in its top cancer risk category, saying they are "carcinogenic to humans." On Jan. 1, California will become the first state to ban anyone younger than 18 from tanning beds.
To increase use of sunless tanning products, manufacturers must improve them, the study authors said. Existing products can streak and cause an unnatural orange tinge.
Dr. Jonette Keri, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "we would prefer that people were nicely pale and pasty, but it's just not the way it is -- people want to be tan." Women of college age are especially avid tanners, she noted.
"We need to get away from the idea that a tan is healthy," Keri added. "But if you want a tan, sunless tanning products are not a bad way to go."
For more information on healthy skin and cancer prevention, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.