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Social marketing and sunbeds

There is concern about the lack of awareness among sunbed users of the dangers of excessive use (1). Research has also shown that even when some knowledge is gained, behaviour does not change - particularly amongst young people (2). This is largely due to issues of self-esteem (3), the perception that tanned skin is 'sexy' (4) and a belief that they are less at risk than the general population (5).

In light of this research, changing social perceptions is a difficult task. Experts now believe the emphasis on social marketing campaigns should be on obtaining a tan safely (6) coupled with appearance-based appeals, including images of premature aging (7).

Sunbed image

A good example of an effective marketing campaign following this approach is the Sunbeds — Your health under the spotlight leaflet by SunSmart UK (left).


1. Chan LKW. Sunbeds — Still a hotbed for the burning issue. Burns. 2007:33(4);536–537.

2. Lazovich D and Forster J. Indoor tanning by adolescents: Prevalence, practices and policies. European Journal of Cancer. 2005;41(1);20–27.

3. Harris P, Middleton W and Joiner R. The typical students as an in-group member: Eliminating optimistic bias by reducing social distance. European Journal of Social Psychology. 2000;30(2):235–253.

4. Broadstock M, Borland R and Gason R. Effects of suntan on judgements of healthiness and attractiveness of adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 1992;22(2):157–172.

5. Fiala B, Kopp M and Gynther V. Why do young women use sunbeds? A comparative psychological study. British Journal of Dermatology. 1997;137(6):950–954.

6. Eagle L, Kemp G and Tapp A. Social marketing-based strategy for sun protection interventions. Report prepared for the South West Public Health Observatory. UWE Bristol Business School. 2008.

7. Mahler HIM, Kulik JA, Gerrard M and Gibbons FX. Effects of two appearance-based interventions on the sun protections behaviours of Southern California beach patrons. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 2006;28(3):236–272.