Does Sunless Tanning Affect Skin Cancer Risk?


Although sunless tanning may be a safer alternative to achieving tanned skin, individuals who reported engaging in this method of tanning were found to participate in other risky skin cancer-related behaviors, according to the findings of a recent study.

Using data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, researchers analyzed demographics, sun protective behaviors, and skin cancer risk behaviors, including indoor tanning use, sunburn, and skin cancer screening, among 27,353 men and women.

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Overall, 6.4% of participants reported sunless tanning. Those who were younger, female, non-Hispanic white, college educated, nonobese, sun sensitive, living in the western part of the US, and had a family history of skin cancer were more likely to engage in sunless tanning. In addition, participants who engaged in sunless tanning were more likely to report indoor tanning use, recent sunburn, receiving a full-body skin examination, and were less likely to seek shade and use protective clothing when outside.

Among participants who were indoor tanners, those who engaged in sunless tanning reported increased frequency of indoor tanning use compared with those who did not sunless tan. However, there were no differences in other skin cancer risk behaviors.

“This study suggests that sunless tanning is associated with risky skin cancer–related behaviors,” the researchers concluded. “Longitudinal studies are needed to assess whether sunless tanning changes UV exposure behaviors to better determine whether sunless tanning represents an effective public health strategy to reduce rates of skin cancer in the United States.” 


Dodds M, Arron ST, Linos E, Polcari I, Mansh MD. Characteristics and skin cancer risk behaviors of adult sunless tanners in the United States [Published online July 25, 2018]. JAMA Dermatol. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.2054