Led by Dr. Joel Hillhouse of the School of Public Health at East Tennessee State University, the researchers designed a large, randomized, controlled study on an educational-based intervention meant to reduce indoor tanning, which is related to an increased risk of melanoma in young women.
The study was conducted on almost 430 female university students aged 17 to 21 years, 200 of whom received a booklet on the effects of indoor tanning.
The booklet focused on the appearance damaging effects of tanning, and also detailed information on the history of tanning and tanning norms in society. It also mentioned the effects of ultraviolet radiation, specifically related to indoor tanning on the skin's appearance.
Offering guidelines emphasizing tanning abstinence, the booklet recommended healthier alternatives to improve appearance including exercise, choosing fashion that does not require a complimentary tan and sunless tanning products.
The researchers analyzed all the subjects at the start of the study to determine their tanning practices over the previous year. After six months of distributing the booklets, the subjects were asked questions related to recent indoor tanning frequency and their intentions to tan indoors in the future.
The survey also studied attitudes toward indoor tanning, alternatives to indoor tanning, and beliefs about indoor tanning (e.g. whether it was relaxing or reduced stress). The test also assessed participants' thoughts on tanning's negative effects on physical appearance and risk of developing skin cancer.)
It was found that indoor tanning was reduced by approximately 35 percent in women who received the booklets compared with women who received no intervention. Similar changes were noted for future intentions to tan.
The intervention also reduced positive attitudes toward indoor tanning and improved attitudes toward using sunless tanning and fashion to enhance appearance.
But, there was no effect on participants' perceptions on susceptibility to skin damage or skin cancer from indoor tanning.
The study revealed that "a simple message delivery method, a booklet, was able to achieve clinically significant reductions in ultraviolet exposure behavior," wrote the authors.
They concluded that their clinical trial "supports the use of... intervention messages to change young people's ultraviolet risky behaviors and ultimately reduce skin cancer morbidity and mortality."
The study is published in the upcoming issue of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.