Living with “tanorexia”: Tanning can lead to addiction symptoms

Published by adviser, Author: James Meyer - Assistant Campus Life Editor, Date: January 27, 2012

The spring semester has begun. Spring conjures up images of fresh leaves on the trees, fun in the sun after a long winter, putting away the winter coats and breaking out the shorts and t-shirts. But, as anyone who has lived in Slippery Rock knows, winter can certainly take its time turning into spring. It’s not uncommon in this area to experience snowfall as late as April.

Fortunately, there are few outdoor activities that do not have indoor alternatives. Indoor tracks and treadmills substitute for outdoor running. Indoor swimming pools make any day a good day for a swim. And for those who like their skin to maintain a golden hue, tanning salons are an alternative to lying in the sun.

Dreary weather needn’t stop people from getting a good tan, and some people continue to use tanning salons even in the summer months. Indoor tanning beds make a nice golden tan a quick and easy commodity.

However, it is known that ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer and a number of other skin-related problems. With this information as common knowledge, it seems strange that people continue to pay to expose themselves to artificial ultraviolet radiation.

Studies show that frequent sunbathing and indoor tanning may be a type of addictive behavior. Is indoor tanning a harmless hobby or a harmful habit? Is there such a thing as a tanning addiction?

A 2005 study by researchers at the University of Texas concluded that frequent tanners exhibit behavior that could be classified as “addiction to the sun” or “ultraviolet radiation dependency.”

The study involved evaluating sunbathers who continued to spend time in the sun in spite of knowing that the behavior is bad for them.

The study reported that the subjects showed symptoms that are common in cases of alcohol and drug dependency. Such symptoms include being aware of the danger and feelings of guilt associated with the continued behavior.

Renee Bateman, Coordinator for Health Promotion, recommends that people consult with their dermatologist or primary care provider for safety guidelines when it comes to indoor tanning.

“It might ultimately depend on your skin type,” Bateman said. “Those who are fairer skinned might have more problems. It’s good to be outside. It’s good to have exposure to the sun as long as you’re protecting yourself appropriately and using sunscreen. In a tanning bed a lot of people are not using sunscreen.”

Bateman said that frequency of tanning is also a factor in one’s potential risk for skin cancer.

“Skin cancers and different types of cancer, as well as premature aging, depending on how often people are going, would be the main concern,” Bateman said.

Bateman recommends that all students follow the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in regards to skin protection and tanning. The CDC recommends year-round protection from the ultraviolet rays of the sun by the wearing of hats and long sleeved shirts, and using shade and sunscreen.

The CDC recommends avoiding indoor tanning, which exposes a person to direct ultraviolet radiation. A suntan is, in fact, the skin’s response to damage from the sun, according to the CDC.

The CDC cites both indoor and outdoor tanning as being linked to skin and eye cancer.

Sophomore early education and special education major and frequent indoor tanner Kellie Sub, 19, believes that indoor tanning can be harmful for those who do not take appropriate precautions.

“My sister actually used to work in a tanning salon, so a lot of the things I know I’ve learned from her, because she’s had to take classes to get certified in it,” Sub said. “I’ve been at her work and seen people coming every single day all throughout the year, and you can tell it’s really taking a toll on their skin.”

Sub considers tanning to be a nice way to relax at the end of a long day. She tans every other day and not all year round.

“I feel like it’s just an easier way to get tanner,” Sub said. “I wouldn’t consider it addicting. You try to take precautions by using lotions and wearing goggles. It can definitely hurt your skin if you don’t use lotion.”

In 2005, Archives of Dermatology, a journal of the American Medical Association, published a study, which concluded that individuals who frequently and repetitively use indoor tanning can develop symptoms similar to a substance-related disorder.

Despite dermatologists’ warnings that ultraviolet radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer, tanning salons continue to flourish.


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