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Myths regarding “health benefit” of suntan prevail in majority of population

Presented by
Prof. Thierry Passeron, Université Côte d’Azur, France
EADV 2022
Despite decades of awareness campaigns, 8 in 10 Europeans still believe tans are attractive, 73% even believe that tans are healthy. This revealed a large survey including data from 17,000 people from 17 countries. Not even at-risk participants can imagine coming home from holidays with “pale skin”.

“This research shows just how entrenched the “healthy” suntan myth is, even in those who have already suffered sun damage or developed skin cancer,” lead researcher Prof. Thierry Passeron (Université Côte d’Azur, France) commented during the EADV press conference. The survey included 6,000 participants from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Russia, while the remaining participants were from non-European countries, including North and South America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia [1]. Having a tan is still found attractive in 8 out of 10 Europeans and 73% find a tan “healthy”. Inhabitants from non-European countries were slightly less enthusiastic about suntans than Europeans, with 67% saying a tan was attractive and 59% believing a tan was healthy.

Did prevention campaigns at least result in better-informed, at-risk participants? Not really. According to a second analysis, awareness of the dangers of the sun was higher in participants with a history of skin cancer, pre-cancerous lesions, photodermatosis, or those taking immunosuppressive or photosensitising drugs. However, even in this at-risk group, 59% said they could not imagine coming back from a holiday without a tan compared with 48% of those without a medical history.

The survey also revealed that only 56% of Europeans know sun protection is useful when the weather is overcast (vs 64% outside of Europe) and 1 in 4 (24%) thought it was safe to go outside without sun protection when they were already tanned (vs 21% outside of Europe). Although 92% of Europeans were aware of the skin ageing risks posed by the sun (86% outside of Europe), 84% admitted they did not protect themselves all year round (79% outside of Europe).

Only 1 out of 10 (10%) Europeans said they routinely or often used all forms of sun protection, such as applying sunscreen, staying in the shade, wearing a hat and protective clothing all year round compared with 14% amongst those outside of Europe. “We must drive awareness of the damage to skin cells caused by exposure to the sun, which can lead to photoaging and skin cancer. This is particularly important in Europe where sun protection appears most inadequate compared with other countries. The public must also understand that they need to protect their skin all year round, even during overcast weather conditions,” Prof. Passeron concluded.

  1. Passeron T, et al. Sun exposure and associated risks in 17 countries: results from Europe compared to other continents. Abstract No 129, EADV Congress 2022, Milan, Italy, 7–10 September.

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