Tanning Addictions: Are You a Tanorexic?

Are you a tanning addict? Is your best friend a tanorexic? Nearly half of all new cancers in the United State each year are skin cancers and exposure to UV rays causes premature aging of the skin. In spite of these rather well known dangers, many, many people are out in the sun or use tanning beds to excess.

An article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology may explain why people want to tan in spite of the risks. Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center took 14 regular tanners to two different tanning beds. One bed produced ultraviolet radiation while the other one didn’t. The subjects didn’t know which was which. The study lasted six weeks. The subjects were offered an extra week and were allowed to choose their own tanning bed. Ninety five percent of the subjects chose the ultraviolet beds. They said the light made them feel more relaxed and less tense.

Other studies have shown that exposure to UV leads to a release in endorphins. Lead researcher Dr. Steven Feldman theorizes UV rays may trigger mood enhancing chemicals and in his next study he will block the release of endorphins.

A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston surveyed beach goers, asking these questions;

Have you felt the need to cut down on tanning?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your tan?
Have you felt bad or guilty about your tanning?
Have you ever thought about tanning the first thing in the morning?
When you go to the beach do you spend more time in the sun than intended?

These are obviously questions modeled after addictive behavior. Over half the respondents were found to have an addictive disorder. Previous studies have found that people who didn’t use sun blockers did other high risk things like drunk driving, taking drugs, or not wearing seat belts. Finding a
number so high for addictive behavior is very surprising and makes one question the validity of the study and the tendency these days to find all sorts of behaviors to be addictive. Either we are a nation of addicts of we are a nation of researchers addicted to finding addictive behaviors.

Even so, there are many people who overdue their tanning, especially teens. “Even though I shouldn’t be under there, I couldn’t stop myself. It’s an obsession with self image and self esteem.” The above was told to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) which recommends not using a tanning bed more than once a week.

Some people go as far a buying tanning beds for around $3000 to $4000.
The ICRF says that 30 minutes on a sun bed give the same dose of UVA rays as a day at the beach. UVA rays have been linked to skin cancer for years, affecting the top layer of skin, the epidermis and the melanocyte cells which produce brown pigment. UVB penetrates more deeply, damaging the elastin which keeps the skin supple and the collagin in the skin’s middle layer, causing sagging skin and wrinkles.

California bans the use of tanning beds for anyone under 14. Along with 27 states, it requires parental approval for anyone under 18.

The jury is still out as to whether tanning can be an addictive behavior but it makes good sense to moderate our exposure at the beach or at tanning salons.

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