Tanning salons risky for young black gay men, study finds

Tanning is relaxing and may be a coping strategy for minority group members

Tanning beds are dangerous for everyone but a new study may surprise some people. It found that the health risks of tanning were nearly as great for gay black male teens as for heterosexual white women.

Earlier studies have shown sexual minority males have one of the highest known prevalence rates of skin cancer, with up to twice the risk of heterosexual males.

"Contrary to popular thought, racial and ethnic minorities engage in indoor tanning and it appears to be particularly concentrated among sexual-minority adolescent boys," said San Diego State University researcher Aaron Blashill, whose study was recently published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Confusion over why people with darker skin might use indoor tanning stems from an incomplete understanding of why people tan in the first place, Blashill said.

Coping strategy

"Many only think of indoor tanning as something people do to darken their skin, so the idea that a black individual would tan at all is hard for some to grasp," he said. "But if we think of indoor tanning as a coping strategy, then the findings begin to make more sense."

Because UV exposure can induce relaxation through the release of natural opioids in the brain, it's possible that non-heterosexual black and Hispanic teenage boys engage in indoor tanning to help regulate psychological distress, which could be the result of discrimination, prejudice, and victimization based on their sexual orientation and ethnicity, Blashill explained.

The data comes from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative survey that examines the prevalence of risky health behaviors among 9th- to 12th-grade public and private school students.

While indoor tanning is banned for minors in California and several other states, Blashill said these restrictions are not 100-percent effective.

"It is important to understand what's driving indoor tanning among these boys so we can develop future skin cancer prevention and education campaigns targeted at the high-risk group."

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