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The Men Who Swear by Tanning Beds

Research shows that men are more likely to become addicted to using tanning beds than women (and no, not just Hulk Hogan)

Contrary to popular belief, men love tanning salons, too — and while men admittedly use tanning beds at lower rates than women, research suggests that it’s men who are more likely to develop addictive (and risky) tendencies toward tanning.

More specifically, the study found that compared to women, men are more likely to experience anxiety when forced to skip a tanning session, use tanning beds to relieve stress and spend money on tanning even when they can’t afford it. Men also prefer to tan in less regulated settings, like gyms or private homes, whereas women prefer to tan in salons that are cleaner and safer.

To sum up their findings, the researchers emphasize that nearly 50 percent of men who use tanning beds engage in a pattern of addictive and risky behavior toward tanning, which might help explain why UVASUN Light Therapy Center owner Greg Rand tells me that the majority of his male clientele prefer tanning beds to objectively safer sunless tanning products, like spray tans.

Rand believes that this might have something to do with the fact that men are traditionally less accustomed to applying makeup. “To apply applications [while spray tanning] seems out-of-character to me,” he says.

This makes sense when you consider that tanning via tanning beds requires less maintenance than tanning via spray tans, which might further attract men who want to look bronze without putting in too much effort. “With a spray tan, you have a few things to worry about — for a few hours, you can’t sweat, you can’t shower and you can’t get wet since you could streak the application,” Rand says, adding that spray tans generally require more frequent visits to the tanning salon.

But Rand also theorizes that men might gravitate toward tanning beds simply because they care less about the long-term health of their skin. “Women are a lot more sensitive to the condition of their skin, and many of them are aware of the stresses that UV light can place on that skin,” he explains. “Some tanning beds have ranges of light that can cause some premature skin aging […] women are very particular to that — they want to maintain their youth and healthy skin at any cost. I think that drives the majority of them to the spray booth.”

As for what kind of man tends to frequent tanning beds, Rand mentions that his male clientele are made up primarily of gay men, a notion that’s supported by statistical evidence. One recent study, for example, concluded, “Gay and bisexual men reported not only significantly more indoor tanning than straight men but also rates comparable to women.”

Rand goes on to explain that gay and bisexual men might be more likely to use tanning beds because, from his personal experience, they’re generally more aware of their body image and pay better attention to grooming than straight men.

Unfortunately, some straight men have attached themselves to the homophobic idea that using tanning beds is somehow an inherently gay activity, and therefore, they think that visiting a tanning salon must make them gay — at least, that seems to be a prominent belief within several online forums discussing men using tanning beds.

“Yes, it makes you a big nancy-boy,” appropriately-named commenter Really Not All That Bright writes in response to one man asking if indoor tanning is socially acceptable for men. “I have one straight friend who does this (in Florida!) and I tell him the same thing.”

On another forum, commenter 1gnis admits that he’s afraid to use tanning beds because his fellow classmates said doing so would make him gay (sic throughout). “I want to start using tanning beds, but when I asked what people think about them at my school, they proclaimed that it would be gay if a guy uses them,” he writes. “I just want to be tan.”

Comfortingly, commenters encourage him to forget the haters (again, sic throughout). “Go tanning,” commenter BLehner123 writes. “Who gives a shit when the girls at your school like that you’re tan and the guys that think it’s gay are pale and not getting attention from said girls.”

“Everyone looks better with a tan,” commenter shorner emphasizes. “It’s a fact.”

Also, a fact: The well-documented health risks associated with tanning beds. And, of course, tans themselves. That is, as we’ve pointed out many times before — aside from the spray variety — there’s no way whatsoever to safely tan. So beware the bright lights, no matter how strong their pull may be.