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New Study Shows Asian Americans Engage in Risky Skin Behavior

Posted: May 28, 2009

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Where the respondents were raised also mattered: 59% of the 423 respondents who reported growing up primarily in the United States indicated that they had actively sunbathed, while 34% of the 98 people who grew up primarily in Asia reported doing so.

The data jibes with differing cultural ideas about beauty and status. Said Chang, "Traditional Asian cultures, in which a tan is associated with manual labor, tend to value light skin. However, Western media often imply that tanned skin is attractive, possibly because it is associated with outdoor leisure activities or leisurely lifestyles."

The researchers speculate that many Asian Americans may wrongly feel their darker skin pigment protects them from developing skin cancer. In fact, some Asians from northern latitudes may be equally likely as fair-skinned Europeans to burn in response to excessive sun exposure, said Chang. However, because most skin cancers are not stratified by ethnic group in the United States, it is difficult to track whether Asian Americans in California are experiencing an increase in skin cancer rates. Regardless, Chang and her colleagues urge caution.

"A lot of younger people don't think about the long-term effects of sun exposure," said Chang. "They may just want to look good in the short term for an upcoming vacation or party. But sun and ultraviolet light can cause a lot of short- and long-term damage, leading to wrinkling and facial discoloration, as well as skin cancer. In addition, ultraviolet rays from either the sun or a tanning bed have been shown to be addictive. The more you protect yourself, the happier you'll be down the road, no matter what race or ethnic group you belong to."

Chang's Stanford colleagues on the study include research associate Emily Gorrell; dermatology resident Carolyn Lee, MD, PhD; and dermatology research fellow Claudia Munoz, MD. The study received no outside sources of funding.