The pursuit of a tan now seems as all-American as the pursuit of happiness. As reports, a new study shows that one in nine teenagers uses sunless tanning products – but they also do so alongside tanning beds and bad sunburns. Nonetheless, experts are hopeful that adults young and old can be motivated to use safer methods to obtain a tan.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. There are one million new cases each year and nearly half of Americans who live to the age of 65 will have an occurrence at least once. Melanoma is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, as it can metastasize quickly. When melanoma spreads, it often shows up in the lymph nodes. This means it has also traveled to the liver, lungs and brain. People who have had just one blistering sunburn are at an increased risk of melanoma.

Nonetheless, these statistics seem to have done little to curb the use of tanning beds among teenagers. The study, produced by the American Cancer Society, surveyed by phone more than 1,500 U.S. teenagers about their tanning practices. Among 16 to 18 year olds, 19.2 percent of girls and 13.7 percent of boys said they used sunless tanning products. Among 11 to 18 year olds, 11 percent of boys and girls claimed to use them.

What disturbs experts is that the same group of children also admitted to frequenting tanning salons and getting bad sunburns. Vilma E. Cokkinides is one of the study’s researchers. As she told reporters, the study will "help us address how we tackle behavior changes and safer alternatives that, in the long run, will reduce overexposure to UV, sunbathing and indoor tanning."

In a more positive direction, another study showed that women who were exposed to information about the dangers of tanning changed their habits. In the summer of 2006, 250 women at one beach were asked to share their tanning practices. 40 percent of women surveyed shared that they were “addicted” to tanning. Some were given information about the dangers of tanning along with free product samples of sunless tanning products. Others were just given makeup.

And at the end of the summer, it seems that education won out. Researchers report that the women given information on the dangers of tanning were tanning less. The women who did not receive information were tanning as they always had. Sherry Pagoto, assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School, was a researcher on the study. As she told reporters, "We were curious if we inspired people, and we found that we did.” Pagoto also shares that she feels the study “highlights” the need for early intervention and education of young girls.

For further reading:

Teens will tan despite health warnings
Evidence shows that young Americans are more concerned with bronzed skin than potential risks.