20 April 2010

Tanning beds can be an addiction

If you're someone who lies on a tanning bed too much, you may be likely to suffer from addictive behaviour often seen with substance abuse, according to a new study.


If you're someone who lies in a tanning bed too much, you may be likely to suffer from addictive behaviour often seen with substance abuse, as well as anxiety, according to a new study.

Catherine Mosher and Sharon Danoff-Burg, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre and the State University of New York, Albany, respectively, asked 229 students at a large northeastern university about alcohol and substance abuse behaviours; all of the students reported using indoor tanning facilities in the previous year.

How the study was done

Fifty of the study participants, or just under 22%, met the criteria for addiction on both of the two questionnaires.

Those who met the criteria for addiction had in fact used tanning facilities more frequently in the previous year than those who weren't addicted.

Those 50 participants also had slightly higher levels of anxiety symptoms, as well as higher rates of alcohol and marijuana use.

Mosher said that the study was only able to note the connections between tanning and other factors like anxiety and substance use, and there is no way to tell if one of these behaviours actually leads to the other.

"From a public health perspective, the findings suggest that there may be a subgroup of individuals who are addicted to indoor tanning and have an underlying mood disturbance," Mosher said.

Similar studies back up findings

This is not the first study suggesting that tanning - whether outdoors or on tanning beds -- can be addicting.

Others have found that as many as half of young adults and beach-goers meet some criteria for a "substance-related disorder" when it comes to tanning.

Previous research has also linked tanning and cigarette smoking.

John Overstreet, a spokesperson for the Indoor Tanning Association, dismissed the idea that excessive tanning should be called an addiction.

"They're labelling this as an addiction to attract your attention, the media's attention, but whether it is useful science, I think the jury is very much out on it," he said.

Everything in moderation

The tanning industry, he said, preaches moderation when it comes to the use of tanning devices.

"There is one thing we all agree on, that you've got to avoid sunburning and avoid overexposure," he said. According to the Association, 30 million people in the United States use indoor tanning facilities, making it a $5 billion industry.

It is well established that excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation, both from the sun and from indoor facilities, can increase the risk of skin cancer. Mosher suggested that if further studies confirm the link between addictive tanning behaviour, anxiety and substance use, treating those underlying mood disorders might be a way to reduce tanning and the associated skin cancer risk.  - (Reuters Health, April 2010)


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