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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Do you have a sunbed addiction?

20th April 2010

Using tanning beds may be as addictive as some drugs, according to a recent US study.


The researchers found that people who used tanning beds were more likely to engage in addictive behaviours in order to relieve anxiety.

Catherine Mosher, of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, said that, despite people's efforts to curb people's exposure to UV rays, recreational tanning continued to increase among the younger generation.

She said that people who took up tanning seemed to want to enhance their appearances and relax, and that tanning improved their moods and their ability to socialise.

For the study, the researchers recruited 421 college students, including 229 who had used tanning beds within one year of signing up for the study.

The researchers gave the subjects surveys that were taken directly from substance-abuse screening protocols, but reworded to cover tanning.

The questionnaires asked the subjects if they found themselves wanting to use a tanning bed or booth just after waking, if they had ever missed a scheduled activity in order to tan, and if they felt guilty about the amount of tanning they did.

Just over half of the study subjects had ever used an indoor tanning bed, and 78% reported that they had tried to cut down on their indoor tanning but had been unsuccessful.

The researchers also found that people who used tanning beds, sunned or otherwise tanned themselves 23 times a year, on average.

Based on their criteria for addictive behaviour, the researchers determined that about 70% of the subjects who used sunbeds were addicted to tanning, including 35% of all people who had ever used a sun booth.

To the researchers, the people who liked tanning showed classic symptoms of addiction, because the way they behaved about tanning seemed to resemble the way drug addicts and alcoholics behave around alcohol or drugs.

The subjects who seemed addicted to tanning had more moderate to severe anxiety symptoms than their peers, and a greater incidence of depression.

The researchers said that, if future studies confirmed a link between certain personalities and tanning addiction, doctors would need to learn how to treat the underlying mood disorder responsible for frequent tanning.

Previous studies have yielded similar findings, such as the fact that frequent tanners tend to feel more relaxed and at ease when they are lying in a tanning booth.

Thomas Weigel, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, said that, while not every expert agreed that frequent tanning could be considered an addiction, there was logic to the correlation between 'tanning addiction' and anxiety.

Mosher and her colleagues do not seem to be trying to prove that there is a biochemical basis for tanning addiction, in the same way that people become addicted to certain substances.

Instead, they believe that excessive tanning may hide deeper mental distress, just like substance abuse.

She said that treating an underlying mood disorder may be a necessary step in reducing skin cancer risk among frequent tanners, and that patients with anxiety or depression should be referred to mental health professionals for diagnosis and treatment.


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