Senior author June Robinson, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues said some 25 percent to 40 percent of older adolescent girls use indoor tanning beds, which increases their risk of skin cancer.
The study, published in the Archives of Dermatology, involved two groups of young women. One group said they disliked the natural color of their skin -- a condition called body dysmorphia. The second group said tanning made them feel happier and more relaxed and may have seasonal affective disorder.
"The fear of looking horrible trumped everything else," Robinson said in a statement. "It was the most persuasive intervention, regardless of why they were going to tan."
The study participants -- two groups of college women ages 18-22 who visited salons up to four times a week -- read a 25-page booklet that explained how ultraviolet rays destroy collagen in the skin and offered alternatives such as an exercise class, getting a spray-on tan or self-tanning cream application at a spa.
"The intervention worked just as well for people with seasonal affective disorder as for people who didn't like their skin color," Robinson said. "That means it's a really good intervention for everyone."