New Study Says Some Addicted to the Perfect Tan
Alcoholics say they need a drink, and drug addicts crave a fix. A new study says some sun worshipers may be addicted to the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays in the same way that others are addicted to booze or crack.
The study, published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, surveyed 385 undergraduate students at the University of WashingtonSeattle about their tanning practices. Seventy percent of the students said they tanned outdoors, and a third said they used indoor tanning beds (some did both). Incorporated into the survey were four questions that together make up a well-regarded testing tool that's used to identify a "substance-related disorder," typically a problem with alcohol. These targeted questions addressed students' feelings about their tanning practices: Had they ever 1) felt that they ought to cut down on their tanning; 2) been annoyed by others who criticized their tanning; 3) felt bad or guilty about tanning; and 4) thought about tanning first thing in the morning?
Twelve percent of students gave positive responses to at least two of the four questions. These students were gauged to test positive for having a substance-related disorder, in this case sun tanning. A higher percentage of students who tanned indoors tested positive for SRD28 percent. Women who reported sun tanning were significantly more likely than men to test positive on two or more questions: 22 percent vs. 8 percent.
No one knows for sure what might make someone a tanaholic. However, studies have shown that ultraviolet light causes the body to release endorphins, the same hormones that give runners that euphoric "runner's high." In addition, indoor tanning beds emit higher UV levels than natural light, which might help explain why more indoor tanners tested positive for SRD.
Study author Robin Hornung, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, says the study results confirm what she and many other doctors have long suspected about the addictive potential of tanning. However, she says, much work needs to be done before tanning addiction can be conclusively proved. "We hope that this stirs up more research," she says. "There needs to be many more biologic studies about what's going on in the body when people tan." More study may shine some light on the surprising connection between addiction and sunshine.