- Most Ontario high school students reported tanning deliberately in 2015.
- Tanning beds and lamps were not commonly used among Ontario high school students.
- More females than males engaged in all tanning methods.
According to data collected in the 2015 school-based Cancer Risk Assessment in Youth Survey (CRAYS), 80% of 2,053 Ontario students in Grades 9 to 12 have deliberately tried to get or keep a tan. The percentage of students who tanned deliberately was slightly higher among older students (Grades 10 to 12) than among students in Grade 9.
When asked about what methods they had ever used at any time in their life to get or keep a tan, 80% of high school students reported that they tanned in natural sunlight, 15% used tanning sprays or lotions, and 4% used tanning beds or lamps (ultraviolet, or UV, tanning equipment). Adolescent girls were more likely than adolescent boys to use all of the available methods of tanning; this difference was statistically significant for tanning in natural sunlight and using tanning sprays or lotions, but not for the use of UV tanning equipment.
The percentage of students reporting ever using UV tanning equipment in 2015 is much lower than the percentage reported in a study that collected similar data in 2014, which showed that 11% of participants in Grades 10 to 12 had ever used UV tanning devices. The use of UV tanning equipment in people under age 18 was banned in Ontario shortly following the collection of the 2014 data, which may account for the difference between the 2014 and 2015 results.
Although a low percentage of adolescents were using UV tanning equipment in 2015, most high school students were tanning deliberately. This finding is worrisome because the risk of skin cancer increases with exposure to solar and non-solar UV radiation. In recent years, skin cancer incidence has been increasing in Canada, and melanoma is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among young people ages 15 to 29.
Preventing skin damage and skin cancer are less important to adolescents who view tanned skin as attractive. While knowing about the health risks of tanning with UV exposure does not appear to change adolescent behaviour, those who avoid tanning and choose to protect themselves from the sun may do so to maintain their appearance (e.g., to avoid the sun’s aging effects). For preventive interventions to be successful, these influences on adolescent behaviour need to be considered and their impact measured.
Data used for this research were from the Cancer Risk Assessment in Youth Survey (CRAYS), which was conducted by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. This work was supported by a Prevention Research Grant of the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (grant #703073) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Cancer Research (grant #137732).