Breaking the myth: Bronze isn't beautiful

July 1, 2005

Schaumburg, Ill. — Many men, women and teenagers still believe that a tan looks healthy, according to several American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) surveys that polled Americans to determine their opinions of tanning and health. The polls also found that regardless of health risk, many people don't guard against sun exposure.

Schaumburg, Ill. - Many men, women and teenagers still believe that a tan looks healthy, according to several American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) surveys that polled Americans to determine their opinions of tanning and health. The polls also found that regardless of health risk, many people don't guard against sun exposure.

"Despite the fact that we know that there is no such thing as a safe tan, people still associate bronzed skin with beauty and health," says Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., dermatologist and clinical professor, New York University Medical Center, New York.

"What's even more surprising is that the survey showed that 62 percent of men and women responded that they know someone who has or had skin cancer, which - depending on its location and severity - does nothing to improve your looks and can be very detrimental to your health," he says.

Survey results When asked whether people look better with a tan, 61 percent of women and 69 percent of men age 18 and older responded that they do.

"In fact, the majority of women (54 percent) and men (60 percent) even believed that people actually look healthier when they have a tan. As income increased, so did the number of women and men who agreed with these statements. Seventy-three percent of people with the highest household income ($75,000 and above) agreed that people look better with a tan, and 69 percent of respondents in this income bracket thought that people look healthier with a tan," Dr. Rigel says.

The survey showed that women do a much better job than men of protecting themselves from the sun. "Seventy-seven percent of women versus 62 percent of men responded that they are very or somewhat careful to protect their skin from sun exposure - with the youngest women and men (age 18 to 24) being the least careful of all age groups (51 percent). Women also are more than twice as likely as men to apply sunscreen when they are going to be out in the sun (34 percent versus 16 percent), and 35 percent of women say they try to stay in the shade when they are outdoors for a long period of time, versus only 21 percent of men," he says.

Men are better at wearing hats and protective clothing. However, Rigel says, men typically wear baseball caps that don't provide adequate sun protection for the face, neck or ears. "When it comes to protecting themselves with clothing and accessories, both genders are missing an opportunity to significantly reduce their exposure to the sun," says Dr. Rigel, who recommends wearing wide-brimmed hats.

Education needed More education is needed, he says, despite the fact that the majority of adults polled knew that:

"It's encouraging that the majority of people know that sunburns significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer, but we need to see this knowledge translate into behavioral changes," Dr. Rigel says.

Teen risks Teenagers know that tanning can cause skin cancer, but they choose to tan to "look good" anyway, according to the AAD survey.