The Money Times: Indoor tanning can be addictive, and people who repeatedly bask under sun lamps may also be prone to anxiety and substance abuse problems, according to a new study.
Despite the well-publicized health hazards of sunbeds, indoor tanning remains an irresistible attraction for many people. While some experts say tanning beds raise the risk of skin cancer beyond exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, some others link the machines to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
A tanning bed or sunbed is a device emitting ultraviolet radiation used to produce a cosmetic tan. The tanning beds use several fluorescent lamps that have phosphor blends designed to emit UV in a spectrum that is somewhat similar to the sun.
Now a novel study published in the Archives of Dermatology suggests that people who lie on a tanning bed too much may meet the criteria for addiction often seen with substance abuse and are likely to suffer from anxiety symptoms.
Catherine Mosher and Sharon Danoff-Burg, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the State University of New York, Albany, respectively, found in their study that those sunbed-users who were addicted were also more likely to suffer from anxiety and be prone to alcohol and drug use.
Repeated exposure to UV light on sunbeds led to "behaviour patterns similar to those observed with substancerelated disorders," the researchers say.
"Despite efforts to educate the public about the health risks, recreational tanning continues to increase among young adults. In addition to appearance enhancement, motivations include relaxation, improved mood and socialization," the researchers said.
To reach their findings, the research team looked at 421 college students, 229 of whom said they used sunbeds or sun lamps, with an average of 23 visits each to tanning beds per year. Of these, 160 met criteria for indoor tanning addiction.
For the study, Mosher and Danoff-Burg chose two questionnaires used to judge other forms of addiction, including substance abuse. They modified the questionnaires- combining the CAGE and DSM-IV criteria for addiction- to focus on use of indoor tanning beds and gave it to the participants.
Of the 421 study participants, 229 had used indoor tanning facilities. Of sunbed users, 50 or just under 22 percent met the addiction criteria on both of the two questionnaires and were considered the tanning addicts in subsequent analyses.
Those who met the criteria for addiction admitted using tanning facilities more frequently in the previous year than those who weren't addicted.
"This study provides further support for the notion that tanning may be conceptualized as an addictive behavior for a subgroup of individuals who tan indoors," Dr. Mosher and colleagues write.
Students rated as tanning addicts also had very slightly higher levels of anxiety symptoms, and were also likely to score highly on use of alcohol, cannabis and other substances.
"Overall, findings suggest that individuals who use drugs may be more likely to develop dependence on indoor tanning because of a similar addictive process," the researchers conclude. "In addition, tanning and drug user may be reinforced by peer group norms."
More study needed
The research team found no association between skin type and addiction to indoor tanning, although the team says this may be due to under-representation of students with darker skin tones.
Also, sex was not associated with addiction to indoor tanning, may be because of women were over-represented in the study. "Further studies with sex-balanced samples are needed," the study authors note.