A cross-sectional study examining the correlation between sunless tanning product use and tanning beliefs and behaviors

Arch Dermatol. 2012 Apr;148(4):448-54. doi: 10.1001/archdermatol.2011.2072. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


Objectives: To establish the effect of sunless tanning products on tanning behaviors and to determine characteristics of sunless tanning product users.

Design: A cross-sectional survey study conducted between May 30, 2007, and December 4, 2007.

Setting: The Emory University campus and surrounding locations in Atlanta, Georgia.

Participants: Four hundred fifteen community and university-affiliated women.

Main outcome measures: Self-reported use of sunless tanning products and UV radiation tanning methods.

Results: Forty-eight percent of participants had used sunless tanning products, 70.6% had tanned in the sun, and 26.0% had used tanning beds at least once in the past year. Most participants (92.7%) believed that tanned skin is more attractive than untanned skin, and 79.2% reported feeling better about themselves when tan. Many sunless tanning product users reported decreased frequency of tanning in the sun (36.8%) or in tanning beds (38%) because of product use. Frequent users were more likely to have decreased their UV radiation exposure. Lighter complexion, frequent use of UV radiation tanning methods, feeling better about oneself when tan, and having a history of skin cancer were independently associated with sunless tanning product use.

Conclusions: The desire for tanned skin remains strong despite growing awareness of the dangers of UV radiation exposure. In some women, sunless tanning product use is associated with decreased UV radiation tanning frequency, especially in women who use them repeatedly. Improvements in the appearance of sunless tanning product tans may allow wider acceptance by the public and further decreases in UV radiation tanning practices.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cosmetics / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Georgia
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Sunbathing / psychology*
  • Suntan
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Young Adult


  • Cosmetics