College Students Not Bothered by Skin Cancer Risk, Still Use Indoor Tanning

College Students Not Bothered By Skin Cancer Risk, Still Use Indoor Tanning
Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined, yet college students don’t seem to be bothered by the statistics. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, almost 70% of people who use tanning salons are young, Caucasian women. Because of that, rates of melanoma—a potentially fatal form of skin cancer—is increasing faster in women between the ages of 15 through 29 than in young men of the same age. It is estimated that 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the US each year are linked to indoor tanning beds, yet the younger generation still continues to use them.

Indoor tanning exposes users to two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer. Several studies show those who use tanning beds have a 25% higher risk of getting melanoma, while those who first used tanning beds before the age of 35 have an 87% higher risk of melanoma. The research doesn’t lie—college students who are using indoor tanning have a much higher skin cancer risk.

The Study

The Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis recently conducted a study on whether students were deterred from using indoor tanning beds due to skin cancer probability. Shockingly, their research showed that 99.4% agreed that tanning can cause skin problems such as premature aging and skin cancer, yet 69.1% said they still like to get a tan even though they know tanning may be bad for their skin.

The self-administered questionnaire survey—the sample consisted of 629 female undergraduate and graduate students between the ages of 18 and 30 at Indiana University—was conducted in 2016. The researchers found those more likely to use indoor tanning beds were women who had families or friends who also used tanning devices, those who viewed tanning as attractive, and those who believe tanning can stimulate healthy vitamin D production.

Students are still tanning despite hearing of the possible risks associated with indoor tanning beds. So, what are their thoughts behind the rising number of young women who are subjecting themselves to the possibility of skin cancer?  Cosmopolitan magazine caught up with one young woman who wished to remain anonymous,

“I’m familiar with the dangers of using tanning beds. I know it can cause skin cancer, wrinkles, and eye problems, but it doesn’t really interest me to read more about it. If I scroll through Facebook and see an article about it, I won’t click on it and read more because it doesn’t really matter. I’m still going to go anyway. I haven’t noticed a change in the way my skin looks. I haven’t noticed wrinkles yet, knock on wood. And I feel like if it’s still legal, then it can’t be that bad for you.”

Studies show that indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for younger people who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood. So, how do we get through to the younger generation that they could be setting themselves up for a lifetime of skin cancer?

Skin Cancer Campaign

Researcher Whitney Hovenic, MD, presented this topic at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). “Obviously just getting the message across that constant tanning, particularly indoor tanning, is bad, isn’t doing the trick; the young women know that,” she stated.

Hovenic and her colleagues devised a campaign tailored for young women that quoted Cosmo magazine, various supermodels, and featured a video of a mother who lost her teenage daughter to melanoma.

Pearl Grimes, MD, recently told WebMD:

“Even though the AAD and other organizations attempt to get the message out that tanning is bad and indoor tanning is exceptionally bad, we live in a society driven by aesthetics…men and women rated faces that were tanned as being more attractive and healthier than fair faces.”

This sad conclusion shows the reality of the fact that college students will still use indoor tanning even though the cancer rates are on the rise. Something else needs to be done to get through to this younger generation before the cancer rates rise even higher.



Charlene L., “Young Women Tan, Despite Health Risks,” Web MD web site,

“Study shows risk of skin cancer doesn’t deter most college students who tan indoors,” IUPUI web site, January 9 2017;

Brooke S., “Why I Still Use Tanning Beds,” Cosmopolitan web site, February 16 2016;

“Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics,” Skin Cancer Foundation web site, last accessed January 11 2017;