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. Stephon

    The common thread that I see is those focusing on the outside, instead of the inside. Lots of people do this, especially addicts. Usually the last resort is looking inside yourself to fix a problem, it's much easier to just go lay in a tanning bed and convince yourself that if you look good, you are good. I bet drug and alcohol addiction is also corrilated with low self-esteem, I wouldnt be suprised if the same is true for tanning, and for plastic surgery addicts.........

    April 20, 2010 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Gill

    I'm Irish. I don't tan. I burn! And knowing the Irish for massive consumption of alcohol, if I drink before the tanning booth, does that qualify me as "dual-addictive-disorder"?

    April 20, 2010 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JoeS

    I doubt Dr Rigel expected these types of responses basically challenging his "professional opinion". It about time America. The average person has now become more educated. No longer fooled by the "black magic" most doctors like to put off on the "dumb patience". The FACT IS, there is a direct money trail between the AAD and the sunscreen companies/doctors. Seems the medical professionals care more about their profits than they care about their patience. This whole health care debate has made people wake up.

    April 20, 2010 at 19:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RSP

    I see here that LOTS of posters don't understand how studies are conducted! Yes, this age group tends to use more alcohol and other drugs. But what the study FOUND is that of people in this group *those who also tanned frequently* used drugs *more often* than those that did not! At least try to understand the study *before* bashing it and concluding that it is wrong. Geez!

    April 21, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. LiveinPeace

    Wow people are so ignorant these days. Maybe if you weren't so fixated on your looks you would see that people arent looking at your skin because its sexy its because you like like an orange.

    April 21, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. raysny


    I DO know how these studies are run, this is junk science. If they cannot prove causation, all you have is an interesting statistic to talk about around the water cooler.

    April 21, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mike

    I don't know if tanning is addictive. But, a tanning bed is a radiation chamber. It is not a good idea to go into a radiation chamber. It is really that simple.

    April 21, 2010 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. nozal hitoshi

    There might be a relationship between the tanning and the addiction, mood disorder, etc, but we can not say neccessarily that the former brought about the latter. Vice versa. My feeling is that because of the underlining mental illness(anxiety, depression), they are cited to be tanning, as a result they are addicted to tanning, just like an alchoholic adiction triggerred by depression. Every addiction(tanning, alchoholic) is rooted in the mental illness.

    April 22, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Taylor

    Tanning may be linked to addictive behaviors because people who tan frequently possibly do it because they have low self esteem and need to look good to feel good about themselves. Low self esteem is also linked to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. They're looking at this all wrong

    April 23, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dr. Mike Bishop

    I would agree that tanning behavior can be addictive- but psychologically addictive, not physically addictive in the same way a drug might be. I am a licensed psychologist and I work with addictive behaviors in my practice and this is something that people frequently confuse. Addiction involves TOLERANCE and WITHDRAWAL. There is no tolerance and withdrawal effects with tanning like you would expect with alcohol or drugs. Therefore it's not an addiction in the classical sense, but it can be psychologically habit forming. For more information on addiction treatment see my blog at http://www.tampaflpsychologist.com/

    Dr. Mike Bishop, licensed psychologist

    April 24, 2010 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. JMG

    live in peace,
    you don't know what your talking about. Orange people are those who fake tan. People who use indoor tanning beds turn bronze, no orange. Please withhold comments unless you know what your talking about. Thank youuu.

    April 25, 2010 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Andrew

    Lets just ban everything.

    Geez people, how about some personal responsibility?! If it isn't good for you, then tell your kids about it and make it a family matter. Don't be some idiot that wants to ban and make everything illegal. Thats just plain assinine.

    April 29, 2010 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Cherokee

    I have been tanning for at least 12 yrs now. I tan simply because it makes me feel better. It helps to tan if you are starting to get a head cold or have allergies. It seems to help reduce the symptoms for me and a few friends of mine.
    I am not a drug addict or an alcoholic. In fact, I don't participate in either activity at all. I am not among the age group you have referred to. I am over 40 and I have no intentions of changing my habits regarding tanning beds. I manage to go once or twice a week when I get in off the road. I am a OTR truck driver.
    I suppose you will find fault with that now...LOL!

    May 1, 2010 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. M Howard

    Good grief this is so stupid. It makes me laugh. The funny thing is the public is beginning to see all the BS.

    I have a tanning bed in my home and I tan about 3 times a week for 15 minutes. I have been doing this for over 20 years.

    Get a life and use your money for something worth while.

    May 3, 2010 at 03:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Conni C

    Wonderful article. I appreciate the information and it makes perfect sense.
    When my daughter was born and on her first check up like at 2 weeks, her doctor said "never let her go out without sunscreen and never let her burn." Those words stuck with me and I heed them 18 years later. She is extremely fair skinned.

    I personally think that fair skin is beautiful and I KNOW that those people that protect their skin are the ones who look absolutely stunning when they are older.

    Good work. Thank you.

    May 11, 2010 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Sr.

    What about the fact that people who tan usually take better care of their body internally because they are more conscious of it? ie: eating right, hydrating correctly, and exercising regularly?

    June 9, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Body Pillow 

    substance abuse will always to more addiction which causes overdose and then later on - DEATH~*-

    October 13, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Keith

    Perhaps we can avoid this by actually being comfortable with our own bodies. And not frying our skin in an oven. Food for thought.

    November 11, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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