Non-heterosexual Black Male Teens Use Tanning Beds as Much as Caucasian Female Teens

January 5, 2017
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The use of indoor tanning among non-heterosexual black male teens is nearly equal to that of heterosexual white females, according to a study in JAMA Dermatology.

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. 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," says study author Aaron Blashill, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

Understanding The Real Reasons People Tan

"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 says in a news release, "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/or race/ethnicity, Blashill explains. "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."

Blashill is currently working on a follow-up study evaluating the indoor tanning use of 14- to 35-year-old sexual-minority males in San Diego County to see if there is a similar phenomenon among college-aged and young adults.

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