Suntan still considered “healthy” by a majority of medical laypersons

Skin cancer prevention campaigns remain unsuccessful, a survey of 17,000 people from 17 countries showed. Many myths regarding sun exposure still hold.

73% of respondents find a tan “healthy”

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 Asia1. Having a tan is still found attractive in 8 out of 10 Europeans and even more, 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. 

Suntanning: the "healthy" myth

“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. 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. “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.