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Could You Be Addicted to Tanning?

Researchers Survey Beachgoers to See if Tanning Is an Addictive Behavior

WebMD Health News

Aug. 15, 2005 -- Some people may be addicted to tanning, researchers report in the Archives of Dermatology.

Those tanners might crave ultraviolet light despite knowing about its health risks, such as skin cancer.

"Individuals who chronically and repetitively expose themselves to ultraviolet light to tan may have a novel type of ultraviolet light substance-related disorder," write Richard Wagner Jr., MD, and colleagues.

Hooked on Tanning?

"Dermatologists often talk about people who seem 'addicted to the sun' -- people who know it's not good for them to be bronzed all the time but don't seem to be able to stop tanning," says Wagner in a news release.

Are those dermatologists really on to something, or is tanning addiction just medical folklore? To find out, Wagner's team hit a Galveston, Texas, beach.

Wagner works in the dermatology department of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, not far from the sand and surf.

Tanning Topics

The researchers asked 145 beachgoers (aged 18 to 53) about their tanning habits. Questions were adapted from surveys that are used to screen for alcohol abuse and other addictions.

For instance, questions included:

  • Do you try to cut down on the time you spend in the sun but find yourself still suntanning?
  • Do you ever get annoyed when people tell you not to tan?
  • Do you ever feel guilty that you are in the sun too much?
  • Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?

The survey also probed beliefs about the risks of tanning.

Sun Survey's Results

More than one in four people who took the survey (26%) showed signs of tanning addiction, according to one standard.

By another measure, more than half of all participants (53%) qualified as being addicted to ultraviolet light and related suntanning.

That might not be true of the general public, note Wagner and colleagues. It's possible that a lot of avid tanners were at that particular beach when the survey was done.

"This is a new idea, and we didn't know how it would turn out," states Wagner. "It's interesting that by slightly modifying tools used to identify substance-related disorders, we can actually see an objective similarity between regular tanning and disorders."

Craving UV Light?

The body may release feel-good chemicals called endorphins when ultraviolet light hits the skin, but there's conflicting evidence about that, write the researchers.

If UV light revs up endorphins, that might affect a tanning "addiction," says Wagner. "Certainly, this could explain why education interventions [about tanning risks] haven't been more successful."

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