For years, frequent visitors to tanning beds have joked that they were addicted to using the beds. Despite the known health risks of sun exposure in the tanning beds, such as skin cancer, these individuals tan regularly.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR), the radiation used in tanning beds, is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) as established by the Department of Health and Human Services. The SCF also reports that first exposure to tanning beds in youth leads to a 2.5 times greater risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
The belief was that tanners only went for purposes related to vanity. That they wanted the ‘healthy’ glow associated with a tan, that it made them attractive (such as “tanorexic” individuals: very skinny individuals who constantly tanned).
Recent research by Catherine E. Mosher and Sharon Danoff-Burg of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Albany, State University of New York revealed that some indoor tanners had signs of a substance-related disorder: they were addicted to tanning beds. The study evaluated 421 students at the University. Roughly half the students had used a tanning bed, and 35 percent met the qualifications for addiction to tanning beds. They had classic, severe signs of depression and anxiety that alcoholics and drug addicts reported when deprived of their addiction.
The researchers evaluated the participants using a survey modified for other addiction disorders. The questions included, “When you wake up in the morning, do you want to use a tanning bed or booth? Have you ever missed any scheduled activity (social, occupational or recreational activities) because you decided to use tanning beds or booths? Do you ever feel guilty that you are using tanning beds or booths too much?” These questions evaluated four indicators of addiction: irritation when someone suggested to discontinue the behavior, guilt, excessive thoughts about the behavior or unsuccessful attempts to reduce the behavior.
Responses from those who met the qualifications for addiction showed that every single one of the participants knew of the risk of skin cancer from tanning, but 98 percent of them said that knowledge wouldn’t keep them from tanning. 78 percent had tried previously to cut back on tanning bed visits, but failed. These individuals also felt guilty about their visits and their inability to discontinue the use of the beds.
According to Mosher, the results of the study indicate that tanning bed addicts can benefit from counseling as a way to help them discontinue the use of the beds.
Archives of Dermatology: Addiction to Indoor Tanning, Relation to Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Use by Catherine E. Mosher, PhD; Sharon Danoff-Burg, PhD