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. Catana L Barnes

    Just show pictures of affected people. Vanity is a strong, and stubborn, trait of most people. If they believe they will look like a tumor monster they will be more likely to give the addiction up.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Shelly

    I have been using tanning beds off and on for 15 years. I am 35, I have not used marijuana in over 20 years, I have a glass of wine maybe once a month. Am I addicted to tanning? No. I like the 10 minutes of quiet time to myself and I like the way my skin looks and feels. Relaxation, increased socialization and improved moods are 3 things that I do get out of indoor tanning. But I tend to believe it is my 10 minutes alone that have helped with that, not an addiction to tanning. Yes, I could take a bubble bath, with children knocking on the bathroom door. How relaxing would that be? I know the danger of skin cancer however if I was not tanning indoors I would still tan outdoors. I do however use an spf of 15 indoor and outdoor tanning.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. SamD

    Are you serious? What if you just like to have a tan in the summertime? Why are people so hell-bent on labeling others. It's just a phase, just like college keggers and thinking you know it all. Until you graduate!

    April 19, 2010 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Suz

    Ugh. Tanning beds are just BAD....not recommended for the health of your skin or for anything else.

    April 19, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lisa

    As an addictions counselor, this information corresponds with my professional observations of my clients. I believe, at some point, regulations will be put in place–including age limits similar to alcohol usage.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Michele Patterson

    You must be kidding. Did some agency actually fund this study??

    April 19, 2010 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. janet

    Yes, people who enjoy a nice tan also enjoy sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Gasp! I guess there's something wrong with that?

    Sounds healthy to me! Life is worth living, and I get major anxiety too when I'm in around uptight people who make me feel awkward for just being myself.

    It is insulting to say that our culture has something positive to offer. I'll drink until I find something better. Church, and shopping malls don't cut it.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. DNA

    The skin cancer will thin them out... hopefully before they breed.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tony Messina

    Addiction and Vice
    drive the economy

    April 19, 2010 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. raysny

    Maybe they're trying avoid looking like they spent all day sleeping after spending all night in a bar or out partying.

    But seriously, after giving it a little thought, I don't believe I've ever met an undergraduate who wasn't stressed and anxious or had enough time during the day to sit and tan. Given the age group, 18-25, they're more likely to be concerned with their appearance and to engage in alcohol and drugs.

    I believe this is confusing Correlation and Causation.

    The most drownings in Australia occur at the the same time as the busiest shopping days in NYC every year. Does this mean NYC shoppers cause it?

    April 19, 2010 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. palmpear

    What a load of lies. This is just another example of an extreme solution being imposed on the people by right wing nuts. Not everyone reacts the same to tanning because skin types differ. So bozos like this force their extreme views on everyone. One size fits all. NO NO NO. My oily skin has no problem with tanning, where a ultra light skin might. When will you fools stop this right wing obsession with controlling other peoples lives? And no I am not some addict or drunk. You are the obsessed addicts. Obsessive compulsive trying to control others.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kim

    What the hell are you talking about? So, getting some rays makes a person feel healthy and normal, that's called an addiction? Or is it like the whole autism/vaccine link, which turned out to be completely coincidental? Hm, let's see. They go to college and want to look good. You know they drink and smoke and party hard, yet you try to draw a parallel between the two behaviors and conclude that one is linked to the other.

    Here's my case: I'm 27, have smoked neither weed nor tobacco, I have one drink a week, and I go to the gym as well. I only use the tanning bed once a week for 8-10 minutes.

    Not everyone who uses tanning beds are like the crack whores from Jersey Shore.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Igor

    As long as "experts" keep repeating claims like "100 percent of people should be wearing sunscreen", people will not listen to them.

    Most people live just fine with moderate amount of UV exposure, and forcing sunscreen seems like selling cosmetic products.

    So they better find less radical messages, and people may indeed listen to them.

    PS: I know this has nothing to do about the addition study, but the phrase at the bottom will turn many people away.

    My 2c.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Matt

    This is ridiculous. The poll was of 18-25 year old college students. Being in that category myself, i know first hand that a far higher percentage of college students drink and smoke marijuana at least every other day... what do these scientists expect. Also people who go to tanning salons are usually narcissistic individuals, and narcissism always causes self destructive behavior. We don't need scientists to tell us that college students smoke marijuana and drink a lot... just go to any university on any night of the week.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Innkeeper96

    The answer is these people live in the Northeast. The winters are long and can get pretty depressing. You would not believe how the overall view of life changes when the sun starts shining in April and May. We lack vitamin D and sunlight. A little tanning fix goes a long way when you are deprived of sunlight.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Caiti

    Tanning is not a safe practice. I do it 3-4 times a week. I can't not do it. I don't drink and I do not smoke but I tan. When my week is hectic and I am stressed that 12 minutes of peace and quiet help refresh me. People are not going to stop tanning just because its bad for you. People don't stop smoking because it causes cancer. I know tanning is bad for me, but it helps me maintain my sanity.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Rodney

    Life is addictive!

    April 19, 2010 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mal

    Does tanning really cause people to be more addictive, or do people with addictive tendancies tan?

    April 19, 2010 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Anon.

    This study just screams confounding variables.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Gomez1941

    Addictive? What a joke! The next thing this MD will say is that Vitamin D defficiency is not that bad! How about teaching moderation rather than defamation. The body needs Vitamin D, UV light is the best method of receiving it, and tanning indoors for short periods is far safer than lying out on a beach for 8 hours. As an MD, maybe you should use your head a little bit more.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Davey N

    Maybe, there is no link, but those daring or risky enough to bake their self are the same risk takers who are up for the daring marijuana and alcohol challenges.
    THey are simply living for the moment. More of a personality trait than a link.

    April 19, 2010 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Rick

    Tanning is an addictive behavior. I started going to tanning salons in 1977. I was 21 and now I'm 52. (Male) I do not drink, smoke or do drugs, but I have addictive patterns. My parents were alcoholics, I did not want that path, but I have my own addictions and tanning is one, along with sugar. I feel great after doing both. I was going to two and three tanning salons a day for a long time. Just for the FIX.. I needed that color to make me feel good. So as the years passed and I got older, I purchased my own tanning bed for home use. I go longer than the usual 20 minutes, sometimes a hour. It depends on the weather outside, I live in Florida now. If I could have went back in time, I never would have started tanning. I have not had any skin disease, Thank God! But I sure have my share of crow's feet. My moto is healthy skin is not tanned skin. It's just to late for me. Perhaps some counseling. I truly know this is an addiction. If you are planning on going in the tanning booths or laying out in the sun, Don't. Signed, Addicted:(

    April 19, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Is it...

    ...causative or correlative?!

    April 19, 2010 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Marie

    Let me see researchers polled 400 undergraduate students and found that the young people who used tanning beds in the northern part of the united states also used alcohol and drugs. College kids drinking? People living in cold climates using tanning beds? Young people tanning who are also drinking? DUH!!!! What a waste of money, time, and effort. Their results are ridiculous:

    "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 23:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Gus

    Based on the data it is more likely that college causes skin cancer. This study is based in bias. Look at the authors. The study should not even be published. I'm sure it makes great "news" though.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. greg

    Okay, So this can be easily explained. The relaxation experienced during tanning is not related. I am a recent college grad, and I think the connection is that most people who decide they need to be tan all year round also need to have attention paid to them. So being tan and good looking is one part, also being accepted is another. This includes drinking, maybe smoking a little(which most college kids do anyways) but also if they spend that much time to look good it is obvious that they have some issues with their looks which makes them insecure, which is a sign of anxiety. This is just another excuse for people it is not a real addiction or problem. Just another example of modern day people making up reasons for why people act like jackass'.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. WRClarke

    When are we going to start holding people responsible for their own behaviors? It seems every bad habit is deemed an "addiction".

    April 19, 2010 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. James

    It seems pretty obvious that people who use tanning beds are more likely to use drugs or alcohol, not because of the tanning beds, but because they are the most shallow among us.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Tired of BS Polls

    I also bet that a significant number of them drink soft drinks, chew gum, drive cars, sing in the shower and also breathe.

    I'll bet I could correlate serial killers to milk drinkers, what a pile of BS.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Seamus Willoughby

    "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."

    LOL. right, because telling people "OMG tannin beds r ADDICTIVE!!1" will stop people from using them, just like it stops people from drinking or doing drugs...........seriously, this study and the conclusions reached by these researchers is unbelievable in its far reaching stupidity. even if UV light does cause people to feel good (and it does!), what are you going to do, ban sunlight? IDIOTS.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Ne'Quai

    I have some friends at school that are always talking about how they just went to the tanning bed. And that talk about it all of the time. I mean it is crazy. But I never thought it could be addicting. I personally never been to the tanning bed. But I am going to tell them some of this information next time it is brought us. Which is possibly going to be soon.! Most of the girls that tell me do smoke and drink, they talk about them getting messed up one night and everything. I don't really understand the point of getting tanned? haha . I really don't. But this was a useful page of information on tanning and it being addicting.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Irrelevantor

    In other news:
    Soda keeps you from eating bologna, television reduces the amount of water you drink each day, and staring at the clouds causes hallucinations. In addition, raise your children worth a damn and everyone will be hap-hap-happy.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. woopie

    Tanning Beds... The Gateway Drug!

    April 19, 2010 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. cheryl

    What so many of these "experts" seem to not understand is that not everyone is using the tanning bed as an addiction. There are many Psoriasis sufferers that use this bed to get relief from this skin disease.There are plenty of us that do use sunscreen even in the beds.And is has been noted thru medical experts that people with Seasonal Affective disorder highly benefit from the use of tanning beds.Also in this matter , what is this talk of taxing tanning ?? The people the use these beds such as myself and many other for health reasons and not "beauty" reasons would be unfairly taxed for a medical treatment.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. dovi

    News flash!!! Scientists prove that sunlight is addictive
    Govt. moves to ban exposure to UV rays, citing need for federal regulation of large white-hot ball of plasma at center of solar system.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. brian

    what a load of crap. So because 400 alcoholic college students say they also tan means that tanning = addiction? I bet most of those college students also eat food, drink water and breath the air...doesnt mean they are bad for you. This is about one of the worst cases of association I have ever seen to make a story.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Sarah

    Ok so I understand that tanning beds are bad and all, but doesnt UV light also synthesize D vitamins, which is a "natural" mood lifter? Are they really going so far as to say that people suffer from a "mood disorder" because they find that they can feel better after tanning thanks to basically a concentrated dose of vitamin D?

    April 19, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. James

    This seems a bit silly; the logic seems to be completely backwards.

    Perhaps the good students who sit in their dorms all day studying probably don't care enough about looks to bother with tanning and that the only ones who care so much as to go to the fake-and-bake are more likely also the ones who party, smoke and drink.

    April 19, 2010 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. mountndome

    in my opinion...who cares? the thing that is wrong with the world today is we let other people who say they know what is best for us run our lives and this country....and they are hipocrits....for example...the generation that smoked around their kids all the time(i'm the kid)are now the ones saying smoking is bad and we shouldnt smoke around our kids and passes laws saying we cant smoke in our car that we payed for and pay taxes on while our kids are in it...but look at all these older people, the ones that are 60+, they are the ones that have been smoking and drinking and worked out in the sun they're whole lives and they're life span will probably be longer than my generations. the ones that smoke all the time and especially the heavy drinkers are in better health than them all...i want to know who made the "experts" the "experts"

    April 19, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Larry

    This article completely neglects the vitamin D issue!

    If you don't feel right without tanning, get checked for vitamin D deficiency
    before you go running off for therapy, rehab, or prozac.

    Vitamin D is a very big deal, pushing drastically limiting sun exposure while not telling people to take vitamin D at the same time is very irresponsible. Of course you can make much more money selling drugs to treat the symptoms of deficiency than you can treating the deficiency itself.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Aaron

    Maybe tanning beds attract more people with addictive personalities. Tanning beds are bad for you, just are alcohol and drugs, but alot of people don't care about the consequences, just the immediate results.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. roswelldk

    hahaha because its college! it has nothing to do with tanning beds. this is ridiculous. the majority of college kids are smoking and drinking... seriously??

    April 20, 2010 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Ronnie Piper

    These "studies" are ridiculous and are getting out of hand. How do these researchers still have a job. Here's my study. Reseaches like these are 90% of the reason americans are so messed up and are hypochondriacs. We see all these symptoms (most of which are normal day to day living circumstances) and diagnose ourselves with tanningbedtoomuchia disorder and go get some pills. I'm still waiting on the day a study tells us that AIDS cures cancer and that working too hard causes cancer, so we all need to either quit work or get AIDS to avoid cancer

    April 20, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Mike


    April 20, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Cub

    Hogwash!! Who uses tanning beds? Party people? The same I think it is safe to assume suffer anxiety attacks. Geezzzz...

    April 20, 2010 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Dave

    If you ask a similar group of the same age who worked as mechanics or dockworkers or people who take vacations or any other group other than a religous group they would say the same thing. one thing has nothing to do with the other. I hope they're not getting paid for this crap they're trying to feed us. Looks like we all better stay indoors and become fat trolls

    April 20, 2010 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Maybeben

    This sort of medical "research" is becoming all too common, as is the media's willingness to exploit poor science for headlines. A statistical link between two variables, in this case tanning and addictive behavior, is nothing more than a coincidence without properly controlling for other factors that may influence both. There are too many possibilities to list here, and the article says nothing about how or even if they were controlled. The growing pressure on young researchers to forgo rigor in favor of publication seems to be coinciding well with the increasing pressure on journalists to do the same. The result is a dramatically – even dangerously – misinformed population.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Nicole

    Calling this an addictive behavior is stupid. The problem is that the rewards from tanning are immediate and the issues are cumulative over time and delayed. If, after one visit to the tanner, you got skin cancer, no one would go. If, after smoking one cigarette you got lung cancer, no one would smoke.

    Similarly, if exercising once created a noticeable difference, more people would do it. Instead, people try the Hollywood diet. If they want to change health related behaviors, there are a few solutions. 1) Add in artificial consequences that are immediate and salient or, 2) Make the link between current behavior and future consequences more salient.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Nathan

    Articles like this make me wonder whether the writer has simplified the explanation to avoid reader confusion (?or to avoid writer confusion?) or if scientists have simplified their thinking to exclude common sense.

    I know this is poor arguing technique, but let me explain by way of example. When I was a waiter in college, it was commonly accepted in the casual restaurant industry that those who sat in the smoking section were more likely to buy alcohol, which in turn meant higher tabs, which in turn meant higher tips, so even non-smoking waiters wanted to work the smoking section to earn more money. Now, you could test this scientifically and find that there is indeed a high correlation between smoking and drinking, but does that mean that smoking causes drinking? Or vice versa? Of course not! At best, it suggests that there may be a common trait shared by those who drink and those who smoke, when dining out on a Thursday night in a restaurant that serves Italian food. Come on, people! It's like the football handicapper who says Dallas has won 9 consecutive games on Monday night in the month of November when favored by more than a touchdown. Really? Well that's a sure winner...bet the farm! I can find correlations all day long and construct any manner of "scientific explanations" using those correlations, but have I really proven anything?

    Still, let's work on best case scenario here. The information presented in this article suggests, at best, that there may be a common trait shared by those who tan indoors and those who exhibit addictive behavior. However, to suggest that indoor tanning itself is addictive based on whether those who tan indoors also exhibit addictive behavior is highly biased. I would submit that one could come up with almost infinite possible explanations for this correlation that have nothing to do with tanning being addictive. How about a little common sense?

    April 20, 2010 at 00:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Matthew

    "A" and "B" track each other therefore "A" must cause "B". Got it.

    Tanning beds must cause people to drink; it couldn't be that people who like to go out and party with alcohol and marijuana are also the sort of people who put a premium on their personal appearance and looking their best so they go to tanning salons so they don't look like they go to college in the northeast.

    Run this same survey in Florida or southern California then maybe I might start to consider taking it seriously. As it is the authors of this study ought to be embarrassed.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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