Can You Be Addicted to Tanning? Study Says Yes

April 19, 2010


By Anne Harding

MONDAY, April 19, 2010 ( — Alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, and gamblers have their 12-step programs—could Tanners Anonymous be next? A new study suggests that 1 in 5 people who use tanning beds exhibit signs of clinical addiction, including feeling guilty about their artificial sun sessions and tanning more than they intended.

“People have shown indirectly, in various ways, that tanning tends to be addictive,” says Darrell Rigel, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University who wasn’t involved in the research. “This is the first time it’s been done on this large a scale, using strict psychiatric criteria.”

What’s more, these tanning addicts appear to be more likely to drink, smoke marijuana, and experience anxiety than non-tanners or tanning-bed users who aren’t addicted, according to the study, which appears in the Archives of Dermatology.

In the study, Catherine Mosher, PhD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City, and Sharon Danoff-Burg, PhD, of the State University of New York at Albany, used two separate questionnaires to survey more than 400 college students in the northeastern United States about their tanning habits.

One questionnaire was adapted from a test used to screen for alcoholism, and included questions such as “Do you ever feel guilty that you are using tanning beds or booths too much?” The other used criteria for substance abuse and dependence from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—sometimes known as the “psychiatrist’s bible”—and included questions such as, “When you go to tanning salons, do you usually spend more time in the tanning bed or booth than you had planned?”

A little more than half of the students said they’d used tanning beds in the past. Of those students, 50 (or 22%) met the criteria for addiction. Another 60 students had what the researchers called “addictive tendencies.”

The findings bolster other studies that have shown that frequent tanning bed users can become dependent on catching fake rays. The findings also suggest that efforts to discourage people from overusing tanning beds may need to take ultraviolet (UV) light’s addictive potential into account, the researchers say.

UV light triggers the production of endorphins—the same feel-good, opiate-like chemicals responsible for runner’s high, says Carolyn J. Heckman, PhD, an assistant professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Cheltenham, Penn.

“Some people really like that feeling,” adds Heckman, who studies skin cancer prevention but wasn’t involved in the current research. “If they do it repeatedly over a period of time, it may be difficult for them to stop and they may actually feel sick stopping.”

Next page: Sunbathing may not be as addictive


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