Addiction to tanning

A new study reveals addiction of a new kind – addiction to tanning. Researchers have believed for several years that tanners exhibit similar behavior to alcoholics and drug addicts.

Dr. Charles Samenow, a psychiatrist and professor at George Washington University said, “Certain regions of the brain we know are responsible, partially responsible for drug and alcohol addiction seem to have increased blood flow when you put UV [ultraviolet] light in front of these individuals who are known for frequent tanning.” Nearly 30 million Americans tan indoors every year and more than 1 million visit tanning salons every day. Now scientists have proof that many of these people are indeed addicted to tanning.

According to findings due to be released in the journal Addiction Biology, scientists at University of Texas' Southwestern Medical Center examined a group of seven tanners who said they had used tanning beds an average of about 27 of the previous 90 days. When the ultraviolet light, which tans the skin, hit the tanners' bodies, the parts of their brains associated with reward and addiction lit up, indicating increased blood flow. When researchers blocked the UV light, without telling the tanners, the same parts of the brain dimmed and became less active.

We've found 50 percent of frequent tanners, sunbathers report feelings similar to other addiction,” said study author Dr. Bryon Adinoff, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Texas' Southwestern Medical Center. “They're unable to cut down their tanning. Life focused around getting tan. They get skin cancer and they still tan. These are the kinds of things that we see in people with other kind of addictions.”

The findings make sense to Dr. Heidi Waldorf, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Like other addicts, 'tanorexics' continue to tan indoors and out despite clear warnings of the dangers,” she said. “In my practice, I've seen women continue to tan after skin cancer surgery and after spending thousands of dollars on cosmetic procedures to rejuvenate their photo-damaged skin.”

The researchers conclude that UV light revs up addictive urges. They say that the addiction is likely not limited to tanning indoors but also outdoors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now considering a ban on indoor tanning for people under age 18 and the American Academy of Pediatrics is on record that it supports this legislation.

But John Overstreet, the executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing the indoor tanning industry, said that UV light is essential for survival.

Some people overdo things, but that doesn't mean they are addicted,” he said. “Moderation is the key, whether your UV exposure is from a tanning bed or sun.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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