Tanning Begins as a Mother-Daughter Activity, Study Says

Don't listen to your mother... if she encourages you to hit the tanning bed. Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Like mother, like daughter. So says a new a study about the habits of female college students who use tanning beds.

For a report published in the Archives of Dermatology, researchers Mary Kate Baker, Joel James Hillhouse and Xuefeng Liu surveyed 227 female East Tennessee State University students to find out at what age they began to fake-bake, as well as who accompanied them on their first visit.

The results were overwhelming.

While 32 percent had first gone tanning with a good friend, 20 percent had gone alone, and 10 percent were accompanied by an acquaintance -- but mom took nearly 40 percent to the tanning bed.

For those who first went tanning with their mother, the habit became a way of life. These university students were five times more likely than all the others to become regular tanners once they reached college age, with baking visits spaced at least every other week.

The students whose mothers introduced them tanning also began the practice at age 14, two years younger than the other groups, who began indoor tanning at about 16.

Washington, D.C., dermatologist Tina Alster says that mothers may not understand the potentially fatal health danger to which they're introducing their daughters, due to still blasé attitudes about getting a tan.

"If they knew of the increased rates of cancer with tanning salons, I doubt they would be advocating their use," says Dr. Alster. Indoor tanning increases the rick of melanoma by 75 percent for those who use beds before age 35, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner says efforts to reduce the country's growing rate of skin cancer need to target parents.

"This helps prove what we already know, that mothers are very involved in their children's skin-care regimens," says Zeichner, who adds that it's exceedingly common to see mom-and-young-teenage-daughter pairings come into the office for skin concerns like acne.

"Children are strongly influenced by what happens at home, so educating kids starts with educating their parents. In a manner similar to teaching parents how to talk to their kids about drugs, smoking and alcohol, we need to give them the tools to speak to their kids about avoiding tanning booths," adds Zeichner.

The ultraviolet-ray tanning beds are now considered Class 1 carcinogens -- which puts them in the same toxicity group as cigarettes, arsenic and mustard gas, according to the World Health Organization.

Earlier this year, a 10 percent tanning tax went into effect in an effort to curb the consumer habit and raise a projected $2.7 billion over the next 10 years, which advocates say will help ease the financial burden that expensive skin-cancer treatments cost the health-care industry.

While dermatologists have been preaching the benefits of daily sunscreen use for years, the message is often countered by the popularity of cultural phenomena like "Jersey Shore." Character the Situation regularly espouses the lifestyle benefits of "GTL," which stands for "gym, tanning, laundry."

But Dr. Zeichner says that Snooki and Co. need not give up their January tans entirely.

"I joke with my patients that pale is the new tan, but for those who want to look tan, I recommend sunless tanners. They're safe and now much more cosmetically elegant than they previously had been -- people don't look orange like they did in the past."

And for that, we can all be thankful.

Meanwhile, the big trend in the self-tanner market isn't just perfectly bronzed skin -- it's toning up cellulite and skin while you bronze.