Tanning Salons Could Be Targeting Gay Men by Opening in LGBT Neighborhoods, Putting Them at Risk of Cancer

Tanning salons are more likely to be located in U.S. neighborhoods with higher numbers of same-sex male couples, according to scientists who fear the industry could be targeting the demographic.

By studying census data on 10 U.S. cities, researchers found tanning salons were twice as likely to be found within one mile of a neighborhood where 10 percent of households were made up of same-sex male couples, compared with areas of less than 10 percent. The team looked at the cities with the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations in the U.S.: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego Dallas, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Portland and Denver.

This pattern remained regardless of the income or ethnicity of the residents in a neighbourhood and the proportion of young women, who are also more drawn to such salons on average. The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The authors of the study at Stanford University previously found gay men are more likely to use tanning beds and to have skin cancer, and be drawn to tanning salons if they are convenient in terms of price and location.

However, the authors said their latest paper was limited because they were unable to include tanning beds not in salons, for instance those in gyms, apartments, or hotels.

Each year, indoor tanning is thought to cause over 460,000 cases of skin cancers in the general population. Compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men are believed to be twice as likely to have skin cancer, and six times more likely to use a tanning bed over the course of their lives.

Co-author Dr. Eleni Linos, professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Stanford University, told Newsweek: "This is a big deal, because LGBT communities already experience health disparities related to stigma and discrimination.

"In addition, gay men have disproportionately higher rates of skin cancer. Our study is the first to show that indoor tanning⁠—a known carcinogen—is more readily available in neighborhoods with more gay men."

Linos acknowledged that her team only looked at major U.S. cities so it's unclear if the same pattern is seen worldwide.

She added that it's unclear if the tanning industry is deliberately targeting these communities, but said, "It's definitely something I am very worried about.

"The tobacco industry has been shown to market to high risk communities, including LGBT communities. Having more tanning beds—more availability of this carcinogen—in these neighborhoods may exacerbate health disparities, and the LGBT community needs to know about it."

Linos warned: "Tanning beds are dangerous. They double your risk of skin cancer. Over time, they also cause wrinkles, skin aging, uneven skin texture and dark spots, so even from a cosmetic standpoint, no one should be using them."

Her advice mirrors that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warns tanning exposes a person to high levels of UV radiation. That includes using tanning beds, booths, sunbeds, and lamps.

Those with a lighter natural skin color, who freckle or burn easily, with blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, and a large number of moles are at a great risk of developing skin cancer. Those with a family or personal history of the disease also have a higher chance of contracting the disease.

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Tanning salons are more likely to be located in areas with higher proportions of same-sex male couples. A stock image shows a man on a sun bed. Getty