Effects of Suntan on Judgements of Healthiness and Attractiveness by Adolescents1


  • 1

    This paper is based on separate, unpublished Psychology Honors Theses of the first and third authors supervised by the second author. We acknowledge the financial support of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria, which provided funding for the hiring of models, makeup artists, photographers, and the production of slides. We thank Dr. David Hill for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Finally, special thanks go to the students and staff of participating schools.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Dr. Ron Borland, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria, 1 Rathdowne Street, Carlton South, Victoria 3053, Australia.


The present study sought to explore the relationship between level of suntan and perceptions of healthiness and attractiveness. The sample consisted of 191 students with a mean age of 14 years from five Victorian secondary schools. Subjects were presented with a series of slide pairs of models and asked to indicate the healthier and more attractive stimulus model in each pair. Systematically varied independent variables were: tan level (4 levels: no tan, light, medium, and dark tan), attire (swimwear and casual), sex of model, and sex of subject. Judgements of healthiness and attractiveness were moderately related to each other, the same judgement being made two thirds of the time. Results indicate that a medium tan is perceived as healthiest and most attractive, and “no tan” is perceived as both least healthy and attractive. Generally, darker tans were judged relatively more healthy and more attractive for judgements of male models, judgements of models who wore swimwear, and overall by subjects who desired a dark tan. Sex of subject affected judgements of attractiveness but not healthiness, with male subjects seeing darker tans as more attractive than female subjects. These findings confirm that perception of both healthiness and attractiveness are affected by level of suntan. That suntans have these attributes is a barrier to skin cancer control campaigns designed to encourage reduced exposure to the sun, although the lower level of preferences for the darkest tan level is reassuring.