Experts sound alarm as 'healthy’ sun-tan myths persist throughout Europe

10 September, 2022
Experts sound alarm as 'healthy’ sun-tan myths persist throughout Europe
Despite decades of awareness campaigns linking too much sun exposure to skin cancer and ageing, the perception that tans are both healthy and attractive remains firmly “entrenched” in the European consciousness, a study presented at the 31st European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Congress suggests.

The La Roche-Posay Laboratoires and IPSOS survey found that 80 per cent of Europeans believe tans are attractive while 73 per cent believe they are healthy.

The study of 17,000 people from 17 countries, including 6,000 people from the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, exposed other persistent myths, including beliefs that sun protection is not needed in cloudy weather and that you do not need sunscreen if you already have a tan. People surveyed from non-European countries, including North and South America, Africa, Oceania and Asia, were slightly less enthusiastic about tans than Europeans, with 67 per cent saying a tan was attractive and 59 per cent believing a tan was healthy.

Although 92 per cent per cent of Europeans were aware of the skin ageing risks posed by the sun (86 per cent outside of Europe), 84 per cent of them admitted they did not protect themselves all year round (79 per cent outside of Europe).

Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Prof Thierry Passeron said: “This research shows just how entrenched the “healthy” sun-tan myth is — even in those who have already suffered sun damage or developed skin cancer.”

“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 to other countries.”

The survey also revealed that only 56 per cent of Europeans know sun protection is useful when the weather is overcast (vs 64 per cent outside of Europe), and that 24 per cent think it is safe to go outside without sun protection when they are already tanned (vs 21 per cent outside of Europe).

Only one in 10 of Europeans said they routinely or often use all forms of protection, such as applying sunscreen, staying in the shade, wearing a hat and protective clothing all year round, compared to 14 per cent among those outside of Europe.

“The public must also understand that they need to protect their skin all year round, even during overcast weather conditions,” said Prof Passeron.

“Once sunscreen has been applied, it must be reapplied every two hours to ensure sufficient protection. Other measures such as wearing sunglasses, a hat and protective clothing, and seeking shade when it is possible are also key photoprotection habits.”

According to latest estimates, 1.7 per cent of adults in Europe have skin cancer (about 7.3 million people). Ultraviolet sun exposure is also responsible for more than 80 per cent of visible photoaging signs, such as lines and wrinkles.
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