A few weeks ago, I white whined about how much I miss indoor tanning, but how I don’t go anymore because I know it is bad for me. Apparently, according to a new study by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, so does everyone else who goes–they’re just better at rationalizing the risks. It seems that indoor tanners are Olympic-level deniers when it comes to the known dangers of tanning beds, rivaled only by addicts.
The study used a modified version of a questionnaire initially given to find out why young people rationalize smoking, despite obviously knowing the risks. And, out of respondents from over 500 colleges across America, the researchers focused on one small subset–those who visited tanning salons with some frequency. They were mostly white, mostly female, and mostly really good at ignoring obvious health risks.
Nearly 50% of those who admitted to tanning regularly didn’t think that they tanned enough to be in any danger–which is ludicrous, because any amount of tanning is dangerous, and goes back to a previous study that showed most indoor tanners are seriously misguided about the risks and purported “benefits” of tanning.
But most of those taking the survey were well aware that they were putting themselves in danger–they just didn’t see tanning as any more dangerous than anything else they do on a daily basis. The most popular excuses were as follows:
- Everything causes cancer these days
- Indoor tanning beds are no more risky than lots of other things people do
- It is dangerous to walk across a street
Oh, it’s dangerous to cross the street. Well in that case, tan on, young people!
Of course, these excuses clearly don’t make tanning any less dangerous–they’re just playing the human brain’s inclination to see everything as a zero-sum game. That is, it’s a lot easier/less scary to think that if you do one dangerous thing–or even a few dangerous things–the ones you like best (tanning, smoking, having unprotected sex, etc.) are less likely to be the one that kills you because only one thing can kill you. Which is sort of a warped version of the “gambler’s fallacy” that gets so many people to give up their life savings at a the craps table.
It’s also a behavior commonly seem among addicts. Those who drink to the point of excess will often rationalize their behavior with very similar excuses–everybody drinks, drinking is legal so it can’t be that bad, there are people who do way worse things for their health all the time. The same is true of those addicted to painkillers, cigarettes, illicit drugs (someone sold it to them, so it can’t be THAT bad!) and even junk food.
Which is why deterrents–like taxes on tanning salons, or even increased messaging about the risks–have proven ineffectual, despite clear evidence that tanning can lead to melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. For many women, it takes essentially hitting bottom (which is usually when the actual fear of skin cancer sets it, either because they themselves experience a scare, or because they know someone who does or is actually diagnosed) to get them out of the beds and into some self-tanner or another, safer choice.