Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2013 Jun;29(3):140-8. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12040.
Dark-skinned individuals are less likely than light-skinned individuals to become sunburned or develop skin cancer. Some have extrapolated this relationship and surmised that developing and maintaining a tan will reduce the risk of sunburns and melanoma. In order to examine whether this strategy indeed protects against sunburns, we surveyed college students about both their tanning habits prior to spring break and their spring break activities.
Sorority and fraternity students were recruited after spring break. Analyses examined associations between potential risk factors and the development of one or more sunburns during spring break.
As expected, the risk of obtaining a sunburn increased with: time spent in the sun during spring break; light complexion, as assessed by various sun-sensitivity factors; and lack of sunscreen use. We also found that tanning using an artificial UV source during the 10 weeks prior to spring break was not associated with reduced risk of sunburns during spring-break, but rather with a marginal increase in this risk.
These data provide evidence that maintaining a tan may not provide protection from sunburns. Public health messages need to address this misconception, stating clearly that a tan does not protect against or reduce the chances of developing a sunburn.