Can you become addicted to tanning beds?

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If you’re someone who lies in a tanning bed too much, you may be likely to suffer from addictive behavior often seen with substance abuse, as well as anxiety, according to a new study.

A man lies on a tanning bed as he begins a session at a tanning salon in Shanghai August 1, 2006. REUTERS/Nir Elias

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

Fifty of the study participants, or just under 22 percent, 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 very slightly higher levels of anxiety symptoms, as well as higher rates of alcohol and marijuana use.

Mosher told Reuters Health by e-mail 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 behaviors 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.

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 young adults and beachgoers 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 labeling 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 told Reuters Health.

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 behavior, anxiety and substance use, treating those underlying mood disorders might be a way to reduce tanning and the associated skin cancer risk.

SOURCE: here Archives of Dermatology, April 2010.