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. soccer10

    This seems an improbable derivation of causation from a correlation. A more simple explanation would be that people who tan are more likely concerned about their social appearance, and are thus more likely to participate in activities involving alcohol and marijuana.

    April 20, 2010 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Selmers

    Are you kidding me? This is the same crap that links marijuana as a gateway drug to harder stuff. Look at the demographic! Its not a correlation, rather, the type of people who use tanning beds are the same type of people who believe in an artificial environment, many of which use drugs to escape reality!

    This isnt, "Use a tanning bed, become a junkie!" Get frikin real!

    April 20, 2010 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dee

    How about just leaving people alone and quit telling us that everything we enjoy is bad !!! Can't smoke, can't drink, can't drive w/o a seat belt, can't can't can't .. now we shouldn't tan cuz we'll become a pothead!! Give it a break ... !

    April 20, 2010 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lucas

    Coorelation is not causation.. so what exactly is the point of this article? Theres no conclusion, no potential benefits discussed or even a discussion of the potential causes for the coorelation.. Just "Hey, we've noticed theres a minor coorelation between these two things."

    Is this really what passes for a scientific study these days? Is this really worthy of a news article? I know panic and fear sell.. but come on.

    April 20, 2010 at 01:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. chynadoll13154

    In moderation, I think tanning is fine. I go once a week, and maybe it makes me happier- I don't know. I'd rather get some sunshine than be on some crazy pills shoved down my throat from the pharmaceutical industry with awful side effects.

    April 20, 2010 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ed

    STOOOOOPID!!!! It is the anxiety and vanity and all those other symptoms that CAUSES them to go to the damn tanning beds. It's not the tanning beds that CAUSE it. You dummies got it bass-ackwards.

    This "study" is like saying that people who bleed a lot tend to cut themselves....or

    People with brain damage tend to huff inhalants more than those without brain damage....

    Come ON people....individuals go to tanning booths because they are insecure about how they look, and they do not want to be seen in public with anything other than that bronze look....and once they have attained it, of COURSE they feel better and more sociable......JEEZ!!

    Did anyone actually get government funds for doing this idiotic study????

    April 20, 2010 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Anonymous

    This is an excellent example of stupid "research" that contributes absolutely no scientific benefit but generates lots of publicity.

    April 20, 2010 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lol

    This is not even worth reporting. How this can even be considered a legitimate study is ridiculous. Alcohol abuse and marijuana use is extremely prevalent among undergraduate college students. Another scientist could interview subjects about eating oreos and they could come to the conclusion that there is a link between eating oreos and substance abuse. To give this any merit is astonishing.

    April 20, 2010 at 01:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Dingo McRib

    Or instead of the "tanning beds are an addictive drug" theory, how about this: people who are likely to go to tanning beds are hyperfocused on their looks and tend to be insecure. People who are insecure about their looks are more likely to be anxious and to self-medicate. Therefore, people who go to tanning beds are more likely to engage in the use of pot and alcohol.

    April 20, 2010 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. CJones

    This is ridiculous. How about the possibility that the addictive tendencies lead to indoor tanning, not the other way around, or those that tan do so because they already feel pressure to fit in (goes right along with the drinking, smoking, etc.) Why don't researchers spend their time/money on more important things. So, if people who tan go to therapy instead, they can cure skin cancer, is that honestly what this article purports? CNN, I expect more.

    April 20, 2010 at 02:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Randy in Arizona

    Maybe as a result of sunbed tanning, they actually relieved their stress and anxiety for a whole 10-16 minutes. Maybe those 10-16 minutes were actually relaxing and rejuvenating them. Maybe with all the potential side effects of sunbed tanning, they still needed the total isolation to get their head straight. Maybe with all the talk about staying out of the sun, this is actually the only way to get their vitamins.

    Although we leave it up to the experts to know everything, why can't they find other reasons why younger people sunbed tan except "THEY MUST BE BAS PEOPLE AND DRINK AND DO DRUGS". Grow up everyone.

    April 20, 2010 at 02:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. doofus

    tanning beds linked to addictive behavior? really? of all the things that are available for me to read at 12:15am, MST UStime, it's this. SERIOUSLY? i mean, i get the whole "why did you click it then, and why did you bother to leave a comment then" response to my comment, but for crying out loud... REALLY? this is news... REALLY?

    April 20, 2010 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Erik

    Alright, I'm usually in favor of all these health studies, but really? This study is a tid bit rediculous on the grounds that because someone cares about their appearance they have underlying issues? How does this study explain addictive behaviors among african americans?

    Tanning isn't addictive, us pasty pale people would like a chance to engage in conversation with the opposite gender and attract them. Also, is it a coincidence that people who are socialites drink and occaisionally smoke?

    The premise of this article is the health equivalent of stating "Shopping at Walmart indicates you are poor"... come on people there are bigger issues that need to be addressed

    April 20, 2010 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. John

    One OTHER possibility that comes to mind is a correlation, not a causation. Attractive men and women who tan to maximize their attractiveness (I assume that fat and unattractive women and men don't usually bother since their pale skin is the least of their detractors) are highly sought after. Attractive men engage in addictive behaviors like drinking and marijuana so that attractive women will consume these substances with them, increasing their chances of getting laid.

    Attractive women who are highly sought after find themselves constantly offered alcohol and marijuana, because the men offering it want to lower their inhibitions to increase their chances of getting some.

    Pretty basic correlation, that doesn't have anything to do with UV exposure. Wonder if they found a sampling cohort that spray tanned? One would expect to see the same addictive behavior from people that primarily spray tanned according to my theory.

    April 20, 2010 at 03:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. chad

    College kids that drink, use dope, and have anxiety.....really??? How is this linked to indoor tanning? Let me guess, they also did the survey during winter when the temp gets below zero in the northeast.

    April 20, 2010 at 04:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mick janson

    this is totally insane. without UVA and UVB rays there would be NO life on this planet. these rays make it possible for a human being to produce the most important vitamin of all, vitamin D. Vitamin D is not only important for overall health but blocks most cancer cells from ever forming. maybe these people are vitamin D deficient and their bodies are seeking help. sometimes I think the medical community won't be happy until everyone is sick.

    April 20, 2010 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sebastian

    Tanning gives you a high? I wouldn't know if there is any truth to this, but it sounds implausible to me. More likely, people who socialize a lot want to be as attractive as possible, even if it gives them skin cancer. I think it's simply vanity.

    April 20, 2010 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Stephen R.

    Another dazzling display of false logic from the medical community... as with countless other "studies," these observations establish a correlation, not a causation... there are any number of other possible explanations for the statistical relation... e.g., people with substance abuse problems all suffer from low self-esteem, which would make them more likely to be vain and self-conscious about their appearance...

    If doctors had to pass a course in formal logic instead of memorizing the names and addresses of all the major pharmaceutical giants, we might have better doctors... fewer, but better...

    April 20, 2010 at 05:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Andrew Lark

    I find it amusing how we as humans look for anything possible to blame our shortcomings on. The fact that there was even a study done trying to link tanning to substance abuse and addiction is ludicrous. First of all polling people is a poor tool to use if you want accurate information. Think about the last time you filled out some sort of questionnaire, were you completely honest on every question? Also by just studying people ages 18-25 the information becomes very skewed and not really informative at all. Them saying that most people they interviewed who tanned also drank and smoke marijuana and trying to use it to validate their hypothesis is useless. As a college student myself I can tell you that a large majority of college students drink almost every weekend and a good number smoke marijuana recreationally. Also if you think about the people who use tanning beds, I would think that most of them are girls who obviously care a lot about how they look. I see sorority girls with tans in the middle of winter all the time. Many of the sorority girls I have come in contact with who tan regularly are shallow and care far too much about their appearance. Their own insecurities are what give them anxiety and probably plays a role in their substance use. I'm not saying that they are the only people who use tanning beds and have these problems, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made up a good-sized portion of sun-tanners in the 18-25 age range. I guess my point is that, maybe instead of trying to link addiction, anxiety, and substance abuse to tanning beds, people should instead examine where these problems ultimately stem from. Addiction, anxiety, and substance abuse are problems rooted deeply in our mental build. We like they way something makes us feel-we get addicted to it, we get anxious about nearly everything in life, and substance-abuse is an addiction we use to stop feeling anxious about things. Maybe if there weren't so much pressure on young adults from the Media, family, and peers, they wouldn't feel anxious about the need to alter the appearance of their bodies so much. In the end, this sort of study is silly and a waste of time and money. People tan because they want to look a certain way. That is as complicated as you need to be regarding this subject.

    April 20, 2010 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. JoeS

    Dr. Rigel's proposed "theory" is disturbing on so many levels. His "strategy" for 0 tanning has probably contributed to significant illnesses in those who take his advice. The good doctor makes no mention as to how toxic most sunscreens are to the human body. No mention that Vitamin D, produced NATURALLY by the human body from exposure to u.v. light (sun exposure or tanning beds – same light frequency), is so critical in fighting diseases. No mention that the lack of sun exposure is now being linked to Autism, breast cancer and other deliberating diseases. No mention that the American Academy of Dermatology has a direct financial connection to the sunscreen industry.

    April 20, 2010 at 05:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. feralhiker

    Sounds like a study Big Pharma would appreciate. Instead of getting rid of nasty pasty white skin, we could be consuming pharma's antidepressants. I'd rather have a few sun spots and reasonably tanned skin than have to buy my vitamin D and consume psychotropics with all their lovely side effects like massive weight gain and that grogged out feeling. We really didn't evolve to spend our time in climate controlled boxes. Yes....the sun and tanning feels good.......... oh horrors! We were made that way. Since the "shun the sun" movement, Big Pharma has been doing happy dances all the way to the bank.

    April 20, 2010 at 06:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. LOLatGOP

    Tanning beds are bad, yes, but so are many things Americans do.

    This article is obviously biased, as just like most things 'bad' for you, tanning beds in moderation is ok.

    April 20, 2010 at 07:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dr. Mama

    This is such compelling information. I'd like to see similar studies of young people who have cosmetic surgical procedures like breast augmentation. Also an association with depression I wonder?


    April 20, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. CNote

    Seriously CNN....way to scrub your stories. This is like the study that said the sales of ice cream led to more crime, when they didn't realize the weather was the motivator of both. It's called "spurious correlation". People don't drink and abuse substances because they tan. They drink, abuse substances and tan because they are college-aged. Next you are going to say tanning is the "gateway drug" to skipping class, drinking red bull and listening to Dave Matthews Band.

    April 20, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Bubba

    Getting a suntan is SO unnatural. It makes me positively CRINGE. Thanks SO much for telling us how to live, Doc!

    April 20, 2010 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Therealbillc

    Use is NOT abuse. The words are not interchangable, like this author is doing here. Just because someone who uses tanning also drinks alcohol, or uses cannabis, doesn't automatically indicate they are abusing any of those things. What is the author's point? That tanning is a "gateway" behaviour?

    April 20, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Wendy Rex

    YES, tanning is addicting...especially up here in Northern NY

    Its warm, its quiet.....you can get some release from Seasonal affective disorder...
    No phone, no one buggin you, you can have msuic or just snooze in peace
    did I mention WARM??

    wear SPF 55 ..its still a wonderful thing

    April 20, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. J

    I attend the University of Mississippi and can tell you that at least half of the girls here look like they just walked off the beach during the middle of January. It's probably closer to 80% who use tanning beds during the summer (or tan outside).

    And if the authors are serious that this is addictive, perhaps it should be of note that EVERY apartment in this city has free tanning beds. Multiple free tanning beds.

    April 20, 2010 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Robert

    More stupidity!!!!!!! Tanning salons DO NOT CAUSE DISORDERS OR SKIN CANCER, the practice of blameing tanning salons for health problems is incomprehensible Tanning indoors exposes the user to a predictable amount of UV light that does not cause the skin burning and damage that a day at the beach does! In fact even if one to go to a tanning salon every day of the week and tan for the maximum amount of time (which they would be advised not to) the total UV exposure would still not equal the one day at the beach

    April 20, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Paul

    This article makes no sense. It doesn't show at all that tanning is related to alcohol. There are too many variables in the study to make a conclusion.

    April 20, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Aura

    Correlation is not causation! Stats 101. This article is ridiculous!

    April 20, 2010 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. WhoApprovedThisArticle

    This outrageous article sounds like its from a tabloid magazine and not CNN. Who ever approved this article should be fired. Pure nonsense and I'm in awe it got published. Could not be any more obvious this is in support of the new tanning taxation they are putting out. CNN I'm actually embarrassed to say I read and trust you as a news source.

    April 20, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jeff

    "They found that people who tanned also tended to use alcohol and marijuana"

    So what about people who don't tan? What percentage of them drink?

    This whole thing is truly silly.

    I'm honestly beginning to not trust any medical studies. Which is a total shame. I understand, author, you're just compiling a study and turning it in to a newspiece that has some buzzwords and fits into the current events news cycle. But rather than laugh at all of us respondents who you've managed to get a reaction out of, author, why not try to make your next article a little bit more meaningful and substantiative.

    Re-read your piece. It gives a whole new meaning to the term: garbage in, garbage out.

    April 20, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jimmy 5

    Excuse me, you want to "attack" the public like you would alcoholics and drug abusers? Because they want to enjoy indoor tanning?
    You've got to be kidding me! Wait....Are chocoholics next?

    April 20, 2010 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Jesse

    This just in... habitual Cheeto and FunYun consumption have been linked to marijuana use. Seriously, this is a complete non-story.

    That being said, I think the link between impressionable youth with extra discretionary income could be linked to ALL SORTS of potentially harmful behaviors. They probably also get more speeding tickets, text while driving, smoke more cigarettes, have more casual sex, watch more MTV, and listen to more dance music. None of that seems like it would be hard to infer.

    I think you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about an industry just by looking at its clientele. Targeting your services to fashionable teenage girls probably doesn't mean you're going to need a whole lot of scientific evidence about your product. A bunch of bright colors and a few good looking employees is more than enough to catch their magpie attention span. If they end up getting cancer later, that's their problem now, isn't it?... at least, that's the way the industry looks at it. They figure they're well safe under the umbrella of the other bad-for-you industries (McD's, big tobacco, handguns, etc) who are doing all the lobbying necessary to continue putting the onus for responsibility on the end-user rather than the provider.... which may or may not be a good thing for the society as a whole.

    April 20, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Interested student

    This article is a very interesting study, but I would like to see more details about this experiment. I do have several comments though:
    1. For those people that do tan, they are concerned with their appearance, and part of that appearance is being tan. Therefore if a person seems anxious about not getting to tan, or takes steps to get to the tanning salon they simply could just be feeling discomfort in not keeping up their appearance. Such as if a woman who normally wears make up (and sees this as a daily routine to keep up her appearance) forgets to put on powder one day, then I am sure (as many of us have encountered) there is a degree of discomfort.
    2. To say that the people who tan are more likely to use drugs and alcohol is possibly a reaching statement. (again I would like to see how the researchers controlled for this) I know as a very social undergraduate student being tan was something that most of the women valued as part of their appearance for going out. As such, many of the girls who also tanned liked to be more social and go out. Now that I am in graduate school, it is safe to say that no one in my department tans, and none of them go to the bars on a regular basis. This could possibly demonstrate a certain demographic is interested in this type of appearance, ie being tan. I do argue that this is more or less the chicken or the egg comment, do people tan to look good because they party or does tanning lead to partying....I would like to see more information on this to find this study more credible.

    These are simply questions that I have, and I am not saying conclusively that the study is wrong, but more information would make this a more valid argument.

    April 20, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. bunglinbee

    Never thougt about it before but makes complete sense now! A girl I know is addicted to cigarettes, alcohol and tanning. Really!

    April 20, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Heather

    This article gave me a chuckle. I am just a regular run of the mill person and I do tan maybe once or twice a week. I have no drug addictions and have a balanced life. I understand the risks of being in the sun. Makes me think about all those people who take their shirts off during the summer as their doing yardwork everyday. Come on.

    April 20, 2010 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Shane

    Drinking, smoking and tanning are all ways of dealing with one's insecurities. These people are just making a choice; physical or mental health, confidence or cancer. We're all dead in the long run. Cheers to chain smoking in a UV bed (raises mad dog.)

    April 20, 2010 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Anna

    I think what this study is saying (which should have been presented more clearly in the article) is not that there is a causal connection between tanning and drug use, but that tanning can become addictive because of the relaxation and mood lift caused by increased exposure to UV radiation. I think this indicates that there are probably many more people who are either lacking in vitamin D or have some level of a SAD type mood disorder than what is indicated by current statistics...I know that I tend to go tanning on rainy/cloudy days so that I can get my dose of artificial sunshine!

    April 20, 2010 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Beth

    I agree with Anthony – I'm not sure that they have the causal link going in the right direction. I think the types of people who tan are those obsessed with their appearance (although whether a tan looks good in the middle of the winter is debateable.) These tend to be people who are already engaging in other truly addictive behaviours. I'm not passing judgment on anyone here – in my 20s and early 30s I liked to party heavily, although I never went in for the tanning, since my Irish skin seems incapable of tanning. So I'm not judging the other addictive behaviors – but it seems just as plausible that the type of people who do engage in those other addictive behaviors (in a social setting where they will be seen) are the most interested in tanning. I speak about this from lots of experience with friends.

    April 20, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Britney

    So, people who go to tanning beds are more likely to drink and smoke... Therefore, tanning turns you into a fun person to party with? I got it! Thanks CNN!!

    April 20, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Cindy

    Good grief – this is one of the stupidist things ever concocted to demonize a private industry. Not to mention what sounds to be a completely unscientific "study." Another article I read on this stated, "those people averaged 23 visits a year." That is barely over once in a two-week period. A person has to go AT LEAST once a week just to keep a built up tan they have. And for me, that doesn't even quite do it. And by the way, I definetely don't fit in that 18 to 25 age bracket either. GEEZ!

    April 20, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Cindy

    One other little tidbit regarding demonizing an industry.....don't forget the wonderful new healthcare bill put a 10% tax on tanning to start in July 2010. Now they have to start "justifying" that tax.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Mike

    I tan in late winter and early spring because i t is cheaper than Prozac. I have always gotten severely "moody" in the low light of winter. I found out accidentally – I went to a tanning salon because I was going to go on a winter cruise and didn't want to burn – that tanning helped A LOT. The desk lights, etc, don't seem to do it. I am ethnically Mediterranean with dark hair, dark eyes, and not pale skin. I could take mood altering drugs, but they are just as addictive with just as significant side effects.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Kecia

    Absurd. Just like sex addiction and video game addiction. These things are choices. They only want to label them addictions so the medical community and pharmaceutical companies can charge money to treat them and research drugs for symptoms. Your new health care system will be paying for this garbage. You tax dollars already likely paid for this ridiculous study in the first place. People make choices, they live with them, period.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Vern

    This is such crap!! before the push by drug companies in the early 1930's people went to places, sanitariums, and were beating illness like tuberulosis. Now we have bought into drugs and we have super strains of illness that durgs can not touch. Tanning impoves circulation and resting heart rate. let's talk about the front page news about vitamin D, Sun light is the missing link there people, skin conditions? What do you think a dermotoligist uses... FEAKIN TANNING BEDS at three time the expence of youir local tanning salon. The key people is just like booze and pot, hell even SEX moderate yourself you over indulgent PIGS!!

    April 20, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Zen Monkey

    Actually, some doctors recommend this sort of false sunlight for certain disorders. Light therapy can be helpful for some skin conditions as well as seasonal affective disorder and not everyone has time for sunshine in their work schedule. People with various mood disorders can benefit from a little tanning and feel better, not because of an addiction, but because of a legitimate need for exposure that they don't get during their long and unlit work day.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. TonyKMN


    If you would poll college students that play computer games, you would also find they also tend to drink alcohol.

    If you would poll college students that ride a bike, you would also find they also tend to drink alcohol.

    If you would poll college students that only wear the color black on Tuesdays, you would also find they also tend to drink alcohol.

    I'll get to the point: College students drink alcohol. Doing some stupid poll that tries to link ANY activity to alcohol consumption in college students is idiotic.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. CJ

    I tan. I have been tanning for years. I have never done drugs, I'm not insecure, I drink socially, have a good job and well balanced and I am not obsessed about my appearance. I like the relaxation the fifteen minutes of solitude gives me. I tan.

    April 20, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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