Can tanning become an addiction?

Susan Evans
Tanorexia is not just a cultural word; it's a growing concern for people of all ages. Although many people love tanning, there is a rare syndrome of tan addiction that can be quite serious. In these cases, people are actually obsessed with getting and maintaining a tan.

Like anything else, an unhealthy preoccupation with tanning takes a recreational pastime to an obsession. It has yet to be scientifically determined if there is a physical or psychological drive behind this addiction, but with tanning salons so readily available, tanorexia should not be ignored.
Randolph P. Martin, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Recent studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet rays, particularly from a tanning bed, can trigger a response in the brain that is similar to the response seen in people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. In fact, researchers found that parts of the brain that are responsible for addiction actually respond to UV light exposure in 50 percent of people who frequently tan.

Thirty million Americans tan indoors each year, with 1 million visiting tanning salons each day. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 3.5 million skin cancers in two million people are diagnosed each year, making skin cancer the most common type of cancer in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now considering banning people under the age of 18 from visiting tanning salons. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that it too supports the ban.  

Visit to learn more about tanning addiction.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine
In a 2006 study, researchers at Wake Forest University may have solved the question as to why many men and women still tan despite being aware of the dangers. These tanorexics, or people who obsessively tan, may have an addiction to the UV rays of tanning beds, even experiencing a 'high', much like a drug addiction.

Tanning May Be Euphoric. The study has found that the UV rays in tanning beds have an effect the production endorphins, chemicals released from the brain that produce euphoric like feeling in the body. Endorphins are often referred to as our bodies’ natural morphine, reducing the pain we feel.

The Wake Forest study followed 8 people who tanned at tanning beds frequently, from 8 to 15 times a month and 8 people who tanned less than 12 times year. All participants were given a drug to block endorphin production and were instructed to tan in UV and non UV tanning beds.

Those who tanned frequently were more apt to UV ray based beds than there less tanning counterparts. When using non-UV beds, the frequent tanners developed symptoms that are similar to narcotics withdrawal. The less frequent tanners did not experience any symptoms.

The Effects of Tanning on Our Bodies

Did you know that when our skin gets darker from tanning, it is actually a product of skin cell damage? The skin turns darker to protect itself. Tanners are literally damaging their cell's DNA, which could eventually lead to cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, using tanning beds is no safer than directly tanning in the sun. Many experts believe that tanning beds may be worse than the natural sun because they use UVA rays, which have been linked to melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer. 
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Studies have shown that some people appear to be addicted to tanning their bodies. In other words, they chronically expose their skin to the sun or other sources of ultra-violet light (such as tanning booths), despite knowing that the practice is dangerous. One study of beachgoers in Texas found that many were addicted to tanning in much the same way that an alcoholic becomes addicted to alcohol. Tanning increases the risk for skin cancer. Using sunscreen, covering up, and practicing other good habits such as avoiding the sun during mid day lower your risk. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.