Cultural Norms Affecting Melanoma Rates

Posted on November 7, 2014 by Ella Fedonenko

It’s hard to argue that Americans value a less-is-more approach to summer apparel. Much to dermatologists’ chagrin, tanning bed salons are still popular among young women, as well. Around 28 million people go to indoor tanning salons in the U.S. every year.

Thanks to gradually changing cultural norms, medical advice, fashion trends, leisure time activities and attitudes toward skin color since the 1900s, there has been a steady rise in melanoma rates. Conducted by New York University researchers, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health explores how socioeconomic factors have played a role in the increase of skin cancer since the 1900s in the U.S.

The study breaks down the last 100 years to uncover trends that have possibly contributed to the rise in melanoma cases. While the study concludes that no causational link can be made between attitudes/behaviors and melanoma rates, it does provide a historical outline to illustrate UV exposure.

By understanding changing social trends, the study hopes to possibly influence public health officials and help them craft more effective strategies to reverse society’s sun worship. The study divided the century into four major periods:

  • Pre-1900s-1910: Sunless, porcelain skin was desired during this period. Tanned skin meant someone was obligated to do manual labor. Many women used parasols and wore layers of clothing. As for extracurricular activities, people valued work over leisure. Therefore, less time was spent outdoors. However at the beginning of the 20th century, heliotherapy, or sun therapy, started to become a medical prescription for tuberculosis and other ailments.
  • 1910-‘30s: UV phototherapy was embraced by the medical community. The Ladies Home Journal was prescribing sunbaths to mothers. Some dermatologists were concerned about the increasing risk of “sunlight cancer” and premature facial wrinkles as a result. Tans were in vogue by the 1920s. It symbolized wealth and the ability to indulge in leisure. Clothing became less conservative. Swimwear now exposed more skin. Between the 1930s and ‘60s, the U.S. melanoma rate increased 300 percent in men and 400 percent in women.
  • 1940s-‘70s: Travel and leisure became an even greater priority. Camping and boating supplies were in demand. Clothing became more revealing. However, more scientific proof that tanning was a link to skin cancer came to light. Between the 1960s and ‘90s, melanoma rates leaped 244 percent in men and 167 percent in women.
  • 1980s-present: Sun exposure has only increased. Indoor tanning salons came around. In 1981, 10 new salons opened every week. The study found that cases of melanoma rose from 22.8 to 28.9 cases per 100,000 white patients between 2000 and 2009. Also, there was an increase of melanoma — 3.6 percent per year — with women ages 15 to 39, which is the group of people who use indoor tanning beds the most. A smaller amount of men in the same age group — 2 percent — saw an increase.

This new study hopes to propel new legislation to help protect people from societal pushes that could negatively affect their health. On Aug. 1, Minnesotans under the ages of 18 cannot patron tanning salons with UV tanning beds.

This is alarming to skincare professionals who are looking to keep patients healthy and to provide skin rejuvenation services. If you’d like to explore the services Your Laser Skin Care provides to help people reverse sun damage and remove wrinkles please visit us at www.yourlaserskincare.com or schedule a free consultation by calling us at (323) 525-1516.