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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Colorado: Tanning Salons Target Young Clientele Using Social Media

Indoor tanning is known to cause skin cancer, yet the industry is allowed to actively promote this dangerous activity using discount pricing and relationship marketing tactics through social media, targeting youth, finds a national study performed by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Public health messages about the risks of indoor tanning compete with a multibillion dollar industry that entices young adult consumption with messages that reduce health concerns, convey social acceptance, and highlight psychological benefits of their service.

Lori Crane

[Photo: Dr. Lori Crane]

Comparing this consumer relationship with tobacco better highlights this disparity: The surgeon general’s warnings about the health effects of tobacco started in 1964; for indoor tanning it was two years ago. That puts indoor tanning prevention efforts 25-50 years behind that of tobacco, despite its contributing risk for skin cancer. Even tanning just once a month can double the risk of melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers.

Ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the primary preventable risk factor for skin cancer and is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Indoor UV tanning is in part responsible for the rise in skin cancer over the past several decades among young women. Currently, one-third of white non-Hispanic women age 18-25 use indoor tanning, averaging 28 sessions a year. More frequent use, use of higher intensity devices, and use over longer periods of time have all been linked to elevated melanoma risk.

The study profiles current strategies used by the indoor tanning industry to reach its adolescent and young adult customer base. Understanding tanning salon marketing efforts can help the public health community design and communicate accurate messages about the risks of indoor tanning, providing a strong platform for education and intervention efforts.

Scientists subscribed to social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter in six large US cities: Denver; Austin; Boston; Portland; Pittsburgh, Penn. and Akron, Ohio, and analyzed the volume and content of messages received from 38 tanning salons using profiles imitating the online behavior of typical tanners – young white women.

In the 662 social media communications captured in the study, the most common messages related tanning to holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, and/or discount offers. Researchers were surprised to find few health or safety claims in indoor tanning ads.

A large portion of communications from indoor tanning salons had no tanning messages and instead referred to local events, pop culture themes or contained a meme – a humorous image that has been altered in some way. The tanning industry appears to use social media to maintain a presence with their customers and remind them regularly about the possibility of tanning, often without direct reference to their products.

Lead investigator Dr. Lori Crane, mentioned that the idea of getting a base tan to protect yourself before going to the beach is a misconception. A good sunscreen with an SPF of 15-30 offers much greater protection than a base tan, which has an SPF equivalent of 6.

There are few state or local laws restricting tanning advertisements. Youth bans on indoor tanning currently exist in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

The study appeared in the June issue of Behavioral Translational Medicine.

Full article here.