Dr Jay Yoo, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor's Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, carried out a study of 333 college students who were surveyed online about their body-tanning attitudes and behaviours and presented the findings at the annual Family and Consumer Sciences Conference of Texas.
"What we've learned is that for some individuals, a significant motivation can be that tanning is a pleasurable and social activity," says Yoo.
Tanned skin is generally portrayed in advertisements as a cultural ideal, according to the scholar, and promoting intervention to reducing sun exposure and encourage safe sun practices has proven very difficult.
One of the dangers of increased sun or UV exposure is the risk of skin cancer, and whilst people are aware of this, cases are still on the rise, and many organisations continue to campaign to raise awareness.
Yoo believes that one problem could be that tanning is often depicted as ‘paradise’, with images of smiling people sporting even tans and often enjoying exotic vacation spots, and this can influence people to tan in the sun or tanning beds and take risks with UV ray exposure and ultimately, skin cancer.
Tanning products opportunity
If appearance is the only motivation, then Yoo says this could present an opportunity for the tanning products market as a host of tinted lotions and moisturisers cater to this need as well as ‘fake tan’ items.
However, for those driven by the lifestyle this could be more difficult, as tanning can be seen as an enjoyable leisure activity.
"Study after study has shown that the primary motivation for tanning is enhancing one's appearance," he says. “For those who tan solely for appearance, using tanning products is a good alternative to promote.
“But for those who do it for pleasure, a product is not going to work. For them, tanning is a lifestyle. If I appear tan, it causes people to think, 'Hey, you have money and time for relaxing and enjoying yourself.’”
The Baylor University researcher believes that to combat this, a way needs to be found to develop intervention strategies, which depends on whether tanned skin is idealised or stigmatised.
"Many people want a 'natural' look and think tanning is the way to go about it -- even if they know the risks. If they think, 'People like this (glamorous and wealthy) are doing it -- or if they think outdoor tanning and tanning beds are pleasurable or sociable -- they'll go out and tan that way instead of applying a product. "They'll say, 'I'll worry about skin cancer tomorrow,'" he adds.