As skin cancer soars, UMMS researcher explores alternatives to sun tanning

By Lisa M. Larson and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

August 01, 2014

The nation’s rising skin cancer rate is a major public health concern according to a new report from the Surgeon General, so what’s prompting millions of Americans to flock to beaches and tanning beds for that perfect, golden tan despite the risk?

“I think a lot of people still have the belief that tanning looks good,” said clinical psychologist Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine, who studies why people tan and how they may be able to change the habit. “Some think a tan will protect them against a burn, but the reality is that tanning is damaging the skin as well.”

Others turn to sun bathing and tanning beds for stress relief. In one current study, Pagoto is attempting to lure frequent tanners away from tanning beds with alternative means of relaxation.

“We brought in a number of tanners and asked them what things they might be interested in besides tanning and they suggested massage, yoga, pedicures, manicures and things that make them feel relaxed that have a cosmetic or spa feel to them,” she said. “We’re working with these women to try to have them seek out these other spa services instead of tanning.”

Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak issued a call to action to reduce the skin cancer rate, citing a 200 percent increase in melanoma over four decades. Nearly 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer every year, according to the new federal report. It suggests wearing protective clothing in the sun, including a hat; seeking shade; avoiding outdoor activities during peak sun periods; always using sunscreen; and avoiding tanning beds.

Learn more in this Expert’s Corner Video.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
New numbers show tanning bed popularity among the young
UMMS professor a national voice on skin cancer
UMMS expert supports warnings for tanning beds