April 19th, 2010
04:19 PM ET

Indoor tanning linked to addictive behaviors

By Georgiann Caruso
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Indoor tanning among U.S. college students is linked to addiction, anxiety and substance use, according to a study released today.

Researchers polled more than 400 undergraduates ages 18 to 25 in the northeastern U.S, almost half of whom said they used tanning beds. The researchers, using language similar to screening quizzes for alcohol and substance abuse, asked the respondents about their indoor tanning as well as their use of alcohol and other substances. They found that people who tanned also tended to use alcohol and marijuana; they were also more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety. The authors noted that "repeated exposure to UV light” may have results similar to those often cited by substance abusers: relaxation, increased socialization and improved moods.

They suggested more study of a short anxiety and depression screening for those who participate in indoor tanning.

“Treating an underlying mood disorder may be a necessary step in reducing skin cancer risk among those who frequently tan indoors," the authors wrote.

Dr. Darrell Rigel, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology and now clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, agreed. “We haven't convinced people in theory that 100 percent of people should be wearing sunscreen and 0 percent of people should be going to tanning beds. …Maybe the reason our current strategy is not working is because tanning is an addictive behavior. If that's true, then we have to attack the public's perception of this just like we would attack alcoholism and drug use. We have to bring in behavioral scientists who are addiction experts to come up with a better plan to deal with this issue.”

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soundoff (213 Responses)
  1. Kyler Edward Michael Pyle

    The reason tanning is linked to addictive behavior is because people who tan, indoor or out, are sexy. Sexy people get invited to sexy parties. There are drugs and alcohol at these sexy parties. Cancer will be a part of humanity no matter how many smear campaigns are launched against the industry. Maybe instead of attacking the 'problem' we should cure cancer. Oh but wait- There is no money is CURING is there?

    April 19, 2010 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Aly

    Absolutely! I was a tannorexic for years, all through my teens and twenties...everday in a tanning bed all fall and winter and spring long and all day on my rooftop pool al summer long. I would get extremely anxious if I couldn't go, and scheduled my life around it. Im glad someone is finally making this important link. I have had two melanomas removed now that I am in my thirties. Keep up the good work! Next lets ban advertizing tanning salons and marketing to kids just like we do with cigarettes.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. anthony

    I disagree. I think the majority of people who use Tanning Salons are high maintance people who has a social agenda to adress and looking popular is what is most important. Alcohol and use of drugs is an increasingly common factor throughout todays society
    to say that Tanning beds are the cause of there use of addictive agents is an understatement more like Tanning salons are a part of the behaviours for these young youths of today. to keep a status quo you will be easily drawn into such things as pot and Alcohol Easily because its everywhere and its being used by allot of people.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. anthony

    and to call the users of Pot and Alcohol "Abusers" is an insulting overstatement
    abuse is when you use and use and use until your left in a recovery ward in a hospital from overdosing

    April 19, 2010 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. fadeinlight

    Love how CNN comes to the rescue of the Health Care bill. It's as if they're trying to justify the extra 10% tax on tanning salons by putting out this nonsense. Correlation is not causality.

    Maybe, just maybe, the kind of person that's concerned about their appearance is the kind of person that likes to party a lot?

    April 19, 2010 at 19:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Andrew

    This is non-sense. This is like saying there is a correlation between a persons exercise habits and their use of air conditioners. There is no correlation. Tanning, Alcohol, substance abuse, and anxiety are all very common with all people 18 to 25. Use your research money to learn something that isn't common knowledge.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alexis

    This by far is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Next you'll hear, Study shows those who tan – also, eat, sleep, and drinks water.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Fauna

    This is like saying that people who like to breathe also tend to be addicted to food:)
    I think there was enough reporting on pseudo-researches, really.
    What these researchers need to look into is "why" people with addictive personalities like to tan-I bet they do it because they have low self esteem and are trying to improve their self- image (appearance) to feel more socially secure. There is no proof in this study that UV light makes people addictive.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. cnnjunkie12

    Maybe people who use tanning beds are just more honest than those who don't....

    April 19, 2010 at 19:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. momd

    I think this is a biased study–if you had to choose the group most likely to report use of alcohol and marijuana, 18-25 year old undergraduates would fit the bill. I'm not convinced that tanning bed use is any indicator of addictive behavior. I'd like to see the same study done with a group of middle-aged women who use indoor tanning–I doubt you would find the same correlation.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. christy

    i think that is bull i have owned 2 tanning beds and im not addited to anything i dont use drugs or alcohol i dont smoke or anything else but i do love to tan it makes me feel good abt my self it also helps my back i have alot of back pain and the heat seems to help it.

    i think everyone should tan but that is my opinion. i will continue to tan no matter what they say

    April 19, 2010 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jeff Martin

    I'm thinking it's not that UV is addictive. It's that people who think alcohol and drugs will make them happy are more likely to think that tans will make them happy, so much that they are willing to pay for it. The pattern: social crutches and shortcuts in general.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. s.dot

    Interesting pool of individuals to conduct this study on. I think if you surveyed 18-25 year olds in college more than half use alcohol and marijuana regardless of their tanning bed habits. Kind of a moot point to ask college kids if they smoke weed or drink, that correlation is meaningless. Might as well conduct a survey of college kids who play darts or go for walks, I'd bet about half of them also drink and smoke too.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Oleg

    Say whatever you want about tanning beds, implying that everyone should put a chemical cream between themselves and nature is a hard sell. Doctors need to focus on helping the majority that doesn't want to give up every single pleasure and exist in an insulated bubble just to live a couple of years longer on average.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Cameron Tevis

    This is the stupidest thing Ive ever read.
    People who tan are trying to look good. People who try to look good go out to party to meet people. It goes hand in hand.
    Its not the CAUSE of addiction.
    When your married and boring you let yourself go and dont care how you look.

    These studies are so ridiculous

    April 19, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dane

    "They found that people who tanned also tended to use alcohol and marijuana..." so tanning is an addiction? Sounds like a stretch to me.

    I think journalists (and doctors themselves) too often take the correlation found in medical studies as causation.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Robin Nance

    I have the impression that since our species began we lived with sunlight. I actually thought sunlight was important to our well being. We have a documented vitamin D deficency among our people. Our science teachers explain that things cannot live without the sun. Yet all we hear is how dangerous the sun is for us. Don't you think that moderation is the key, not total abstinence. Wasn't it just several years ago that SAD(Seasonal affective disorder) was the problem and was solved by exposure to sunlight. I think the government should stay out of this issue and let people think for themselves. This line from the text should be read carefully and then tell me what the problem is with those "symptoms", "The authors noted that "repeated exposure to UV light” may have results similar to those often cited by substance abusers: relaxation, increased socialization and improved moods."

    April 19, 2010 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Conky

    Because what we really really need is more legal mood drugs and less people getting high. Pretty soon, you'll be able to treat Brain Cancer with Prozac.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. deb

    Any chance that this survey was searching for a particular outcome? How about the possibility that young people frequently have self-esteem issues. Being tanned is often perceived as athletic-looking and attractive. These same emotional issues would feed the addictive behaviors and anxiety. There is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Ron

    I think if you asked 400 undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 25 if they used alcohol and marijuana more than 50% would respond that they did even if they didn't use a tanning bed.

    Seems to me this study was a complete waste of money.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Hmph

    Excuse me, but you need to further research, this is complete b.s. and has no fact based whatsoever. Speaking for myself, I can't remember the last time I have a drop of alcohol, and I am 29. I take no drugs and I don't smoke, not even cigarettes. I tan because I don't enjoy going out in the sunlight because it does make me burn, and tanning beds do not.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Judy

    I tend to believe that useing tanning beds is more closely related to self esteem issues, which are also connected to drug and alcohol abuse.

    April 19, 2010 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Guy Morin

    Dear readers,

    This is an incredible piece of fiction! The medical profession benefits greatly from ill people who don't have enough vitamin D. "They" don't want you to get enough D! The grossly insufficient amounts set forth of 1000 to 2000 IUs per day of vitamin D are useless.

    Having suffered from psoriasis and eczema since childhood, UV rays, both from the sun and tanning beds is the only way to suppress the immune response and quell the conditions. This has been the only real and lasting relief from the condition.

    Doctors, in their infinite greed, much prefer to prescribe cortisone. This leads to unhealthy conditions.

    In addition, vitamin D, both synthesized by the body when exposed to UV rays.

    The medical profession wants you to be unhealthy!

    Vitamin D has documented benefits in prevention of colon cancer, there are cardivascular benefits, mental health benefits and much more.

    Good luck in debunking the myths of the greedy medical profession.


    April 19, 2010 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. jeff

    Gee , college students have anxiety and use substances? Wait till they get out of college and then interview them..It only gets worse....

    April 19, 2010 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Anon Amiss

    I have to disagree! I think it's the actual person who has the addictive personality that is attracted to tanning. Those who indoor tan do so to look physically better. Usually those who spend so much time worried about their physical selves are anxious over themselves and like the "party" lifestyle. To say that it is the UV exposure is a bit ludicrous to me. I like to tan, because I like the way I look when I tan. I actually stopped partying as much when I began to tan indoors in a bed on a regular basis.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Kimberly M

    If tanning bads are so bad for you – why can they be accessed everywhere even in gyms/fitness clubs? I have used a tanning bed a couple of times – there are no warnings there....at least not prominent. Of course I know that they pose dangers...but I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Randy Green

    There are other likely explanations for this correlation, such as simply that people in this age group who use alcohol and marijuana tend to place higher esthetic value on a tanned body – a cultural value. Why suddenly assume there is a cause and effect?

    As a biologist, I find our 'heliophobia' (fear of the sun) to be amazingly misplaced: life evolved over millions of years under the sun. The fact that our species cannot make a necessary substance (vitamin D) without the sun indicates that the sun is absolutely necessary for a healthy life.

    If the sun were as damaging as the current crop of dermatologists would have us believe, we'd have disappeared from the Earth generations ago, since most of our ancestors didn't have sunscreen.

    In fact, the trend of recent research shows that vitamin D plays a role in preventing many ailments, not the least of which are other cancers. Since particularly melanoma is a relatively infrequent cancer in the population, the number of cancers higher vitamin D levels may suppress may be greater than the risk of developing melanoma.

    And, low vitamin D levels are correlated with other diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

    Since most people spend less time in the sun now than in previous eras and many now use sunscreen, the levels of vitamin D in the population are very low.

    Does too much sun cause damage to the skin? Sure. Part of the damage rate depends on skin type and intensity of exposure. But to say that everyone should wear sunscreen 100% of the time (or avoid the sun), is completely irresponsible and shows ignorance of basic biology.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Dana

    You cannot claim that the tanning bed is the cause of the addictive behavior. There is no clear cause and effect here. It could also be argued that most people that are addictive behavior personalty types are also more likely be the kind of people to use tanning beds. the use of tanning beds is not causing the addictive behavior it is a result of a particular personality type. "Tanners" in general are more social, more preoccupied with their appearance, partiers-not all but most are the type that would be likely to fall into addictive behaviors.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Rivers025

    This definitely does not surprise me...when I was forced to quit tanning about five months ago I had some serious withdrawls...the low self esteem made the anxiety much worse, which can subsequently lead to more drinking. It's a vicious cycle! Hawaiian Tropic self-tanner works best, for all you recovering tanorexics out there.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Randy Green

    Sorry - I hit 'submit' before I concluded.

    I'm not arguing necessarily for tanning beds as a solution. The intensity and wavelength of UV light in tanning beds does not mimic the sunlight in full spectrum, and could well be more damaging to the skin.

    It may be that animals (like us) crave the sun as a necessity for health and that tanning beds are partly an artifact of our not getting enough sun in temperate latitudes with indoor urban lifestyles. But being attracted to UV light (especially in the form of sunlight) is not itself an 'addiction' any more than hunger is an addiction.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jacob

    This really speaks volumes about how disconnected these researchers are. Tanning makes people more prone to addictions? Give me a break.

    How about this... People who tan more than likely fall into various social groups that others do not. Specifically people who tan are more concerned about maintaining a perceived attractiveness... Likely they are more attractive on average than others. These same people, wanting to be attractive, likely place themselves around other people more frequently in order to be socially noticed. Now, where are people at the latest? BARS! My goodness, might there be a link?

    It's not tanning that leads to addictions, its an overdeveloped need to be attractive and be in places where people make you feel attractive. This leads to tanning (to be sexy) and going to bars to be around people. Going to bars leads to drinking and after a short while this becomes an addiction. One leads to another and soon you're smoking pot.

    Treat the person for the right things folks.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Kyle

    Tanning is relaxing and feels good. So does drinking and smoking herb. People like to relax and feel goodin this demanding world and could give two shits about cancer. People keep coming back because it works consistently. This study is a joke, I wonder how much money was wasted to come up with very shaky correlational research findings.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Chris Kreider

    This research REEKS of hidden agenda, the quote "We haven't convinced people in theory that 100 percent of people should be wearing sunscreen and 0 percent of people should be going to tanning beds" gives it all away. Research should not be influenced by attempts to "convince" people, it should be influenced by the truth. When you report "news" like this, can you list the peer reviewed journal this came from?

    Research methods refresher for those who missed it. This article would like you to believe that tanning is an addictive behavior, that people who tan have addictions, addictions that are satisfied by tanning. This implies that tanning leads to satisfying results (such a drug), however this study COMPLETELY ignores the plausible, and alternative explanation, that those who tan, and those who use drugs and alcohol all suffer from low self esteem, and that both are used as attempts to alleviate this?

    Again, this reeks of hidden agenda, why is this on the front page of CNN.com?

    April 19, 2010 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. mary

    I have a friend who is addicted.. In the winter she feels she needs to get her fix..
    One day I saw her in the store, and noticed under the fluorescent lights her skin looked blotchy and purple-ish just under the surface of her skin..
    She looked awful..
    She said she had just tanned and was all giddy and feeling great~!
    I thought, I can actually 'see' what signs of damage..
    I told her later how purple her skin looked..
    But she still tans . "Faithfully" , as she puts it.
    She is 55 and looks every bit of 70..( worse actually).. Like the lady in "something about Mary".. it is awful..
    Her skin is ruined.. Yet she can't see it at all.
    She's totally addicted. To the warmth, the sunshine type high she gets. And the tan. Can not see the damage, or convinces herself it's not so bad.. (but it is)

    April 19, 2010 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Todd stevens

    I know of a few people who religiously use tanning beds weekly. I never associated it with addictive behavior, but I suppose anything is possible.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jason

    I go tanning once or twice per winter specifically to compensate for my lack of exposure to sunlight. I am not convinced that "relaxation, increased socialization and improved moods" is a bad thing.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. zima

    Interesting. I do not tan nearly as much as I used to Nd I have my own bed! I am not addicted to anything either: don't smoke, drink, do drugs. Guess I'm just a boring tanner!

    April 19, 2010 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. DirtyBob

    "If that's true, then we have to attack the public's perception of this just like we would attack alcoholism and drug use."

    And that's worked so well for the country hasn't it? Maybe we should different tactics instead of one that we already know doesn't work.

    April 19, 2010 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply

    The reason this is in any way linked to substance abuse is because the subjects were undergrads. This study is basically saying that being an undergrad is linked to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, what a revelation. Also, the relationship between UV exposure and "relaxation, increased socialization and improved moods" could in no way have to do with a persons self confidence because they feel tanner and thus more attractive; could it? But what do I know I am just a high school student that drew these conclusions instantaneously. In my extremely humble opinion, the money spent on this study should have been spent in much better way. Cancer research perhaps? Or even better maybe a study linking babies to slurred words and sleeping?

    April 19, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Dr. Berney

    Another example of bad science based upon mere concidence.
    UV light will increase D3 improving health and wellness while preventing disease. Who is to say that wellness is not also pleasurable?

    If you test $100 dollar bills most if not all have trace Cocaine, therefore if you have a $100 bill then you must be holding Cocaine and you most definately a crack head junkie looser.

    More bad science but this time it is presented as a joke.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. C M

    I've wondered about sun tanning being addictive before. I've heard family memebers of people who are frequent tanners talk about them. They would talk about them 'having' to go and being grumpy when they stopped tanning or stopped going as much. So I guess it makes sense. Just another thing to add to the list of things you can become addictive to.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Caron

    In my experience, the people I knew who used tanning beds were self-absorbed party people who had drug habits prior to ever jumping in a tanning bed.

    I'd like to see a study linking people who act like Paris Hilton and LiLo to tanning beds, because I think they're part of a larger culture of self-absorption and vanity. I'm not a fan of the wording in the title – it should be "Addictive Behavior Link to Tanning Beds" because these beds never caused any addictions.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Kat

    Have you ever noticed that 'medical science' never issues reports saying 'we were wrong'? They just come up with a better guess to replace prior conventions. Now they want 100% of people wearing sunscreen and then taking vitamin D supplements because they aren't getting enough sun. Well, pardon me if I don't just rush out to buy some. Isn't that what drives all this? We invent tanning beds because the free sun is bad. And since free sun is bad we buy vitamins.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Steve Schmitt

    Do researchers have anything better to do than label everyone addicts?

    April 19, 2010 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Leonore Dvorkin

    Fascinating. I have also read that getting tattoos can be addictive. That would explain people getting more and more of those ugly, disfiguring things. I think tans are ugly, too. Love your natural skin and its natural color, folks!

    April 19, 2010 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Amy Massey

    How did they control for or take into account that those who use tanning beds may be those who would be less likely to care about their overall and long term health? Those who are less likely to care about their overall and long term health and tan may be more likely to use drugs or exhibit other addictive, and damaging, behaviors.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Bill

    You've got to be kidding!! Relaxation, increased socialization, and improved moods?? That is your basis for calling it an addition?? Look, the Dermatologists want to charge $100 for a UV therapy session. Maybe they can't convince anybody because people aren't as completely stupid as these wackos think they are. Wine is bad for you, Wine is good for you. Coffee is bad for you, coffee is good for you. Now it turns out that getting rid of air pollution is contributing to global warming. Enjoy life, and if you enjoy tanning, then do it and don't listen to this bunch of BS.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. David Cuerdon

    Was just curious if addictive tanning could be related to vitamin D deficiency?

    April 19, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Carys

    Makes sense to me – if you are willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to be more attractive or change your appearance, that's a big low self-esteem red flag right there, just like eating disorders.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. annie

    This is the worst study ever. Not that I exactly agree with tanning but what college student doesn't drink or smoke marijuana? If you interview college students the majority of them will be smoking and drinking. There is no correlation here and CNN has the worst studies. What are you trying to prove?

    April 19, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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