Asians in Australia going for suntan

Asians in Australia going for suntan
An Asian couple at a beach in Darwin.

Ms Emma Chang, a Taiwanese- born Australian, sheepishly recalls how she would sun herself because she wanted to be tanned.

But as she got darker, "everyone thought I was sick", she told The Sunday Times.

So the 34-year-old Sydney University admissions officer went back to her normal skincare regimen, which includes using skin-whitening products.

But her twin sister preferred the tanned look, Ms Chang said.

While the quest for fair skin is driving up sales of skin-whitening products in many Asian countries, a new study "unexpectedly" found that a large number of Asians in Australia - about 28 per cent - go under the sun to get a tan.

These people, the University of Adelaide study said, engage in risky sun behaviour and have a high risk of developing skin cancer.

Among the men, 39 per cent want to have darker skin, 27 per cent lighter skin tone, and 34 per cent are satisfied with their natural colour.

In comparison, about 23 per cent of women wanted to be darker, 39 per cent wanted to be fairer, and the remainder wanted no change.

The study, which surveyed 140 Asian Australians aged 18 to 26 years, found that 52 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men had deliberately gone outdoors to get a suntan.

"Unexpectedly, a proportion of participants desired darker skin than their own perceived tone and engaged in behaviours associated with increased risk for skin cancer," it said.

The study, published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, included South-east Asians, who made up 39 per cent of those examined, North-east Asians (40 per cent), and South Asians (21 per cent).

It did not find significant differences between the different nationalities in terms of attitude to skin colour or tanning but suggested further research should examine "diversity in cultural perceptions of tanning (across Asian regions)".

"Those living in Australia who identify as having an Asian ethnic background have low skin cancer knowledge and diverse beliefs about the attractiveness of tanned skin, an ideal that is pervasive in Australian culture," the study said.

"Perceptions of family, peer and media tanning norms influenced behaviour, with peer norms being the strongest predictor."

The findings have caused concern in Australia, which has the world's highest rate of melanoma, or dangerous skin cancer.

About one in 17 Australians is diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 85, with about 1,500 deaths a year from the disease.

The study found that Australians with Asian backgrounds tend to be less aware of the risks and early signs of skin cancer.

It suggested that education campaigns specifically targeting Asian Australians may be necessary.

The study's lead author, Dr Ashley Day, said young Asian people in Australia appeared to change their attitudes and were influenced by "peer groups, media representations of beauty and celebrity, and overall sun culture".

"Although the prevailing attitude among Asian cultures is that lighter skin is better, there were a number of young people in this group who desired darker skin than their own perceived skin tone," she said in a statement.

"These people engaged in behaviours that put them at increased risk of skin cancer - deliberate tanning to darken their skin, and a lack of awareness of skin cancer and its early signs, which may lead to delayed treatment and poor outcomes for patients."

A Singaporean who has lived in Australia for 10 years, Ms Bernadette Chin, 34, who is Ms Chang's colleague, says she prefers lighter skin and uses skin-whitening products.

Whether an Asian Australian prefers dark or light skin "depends on who you mingle with".

"If you mingle with Australians, you would prefer darker skin," she told The Sunday Times.

The ethnicity-based study was the first of its kind in Australia.

It found women who sought tans were more likely to endorse "Western sociocultural norms".

"The norms that Asian Australians conform to (Western versus Asian norms) are likely to be influenced by which cultural group they identify with," it said.

"It is possible that those who desire darker skin have higher levels of Western acculturation."

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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