Skin deep: Coverage of skin cancer and recreational tanning in Canadian women’s magazines (2000–2012)

Jennifer E. McWhirter, Laurie Hoffman-Goetz


OBJECTIVE: Skin cancer is a significant public health problem among Canadians. Knowledge and attitudes about health are informed by mass media. The aim of our study was to describe the volume and nature of coverage of skin cancer and recreational tanning in Canadian women’s magazines.

METHODS: Directed content analysis on article text and images in six popular Canadian women’s magazines (Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Flare, FASHION, ELLE Canada) from 2000–2012 with attention to risk factors, ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure and protection behaviours, and early detection. Six popular American women’s magazines were used for a between-country comparison.

RESULTS: There were 154 articles (221 images) about skin cancer and tanning published over 13 years. Volume of coverage did not increase in a linear fashion over time. The most common risk factor reported on was UV exposure (39%), with other risk factors less frequently identified. Although 72% of articles promoted sunscreen use, little content encouraged other protection behaviours. Only 15% of articles and 1% of images discouraged indoor tanning, while 41% of articles and 53% of images promoted the tanned look as attractive. Few articles (<11%) reported on early detection. Relative to American magazines, Canadian magazines had a greater proportion of content that encouraged sunscreen use and promoted the tanned look and a lesser proportion of content on risk factors and early detection.

CONCLUSION: Skin cancer and tanning messages in Canadian women’s magazines had a narrow focus and provided limited information on risk factors or screening. Conflicting messages about prevention (text vs. images) may contribute to harmful UV behaviours among Canadian women.


Sunbathing; ultraviolet rays; suntan; melanoma; beauty; communications media

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