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Study: Indoor tanning may be addictive

Before they swap their sweaters for sundresses this Spring, some young people head to the tanning booths to get golden brown skin first. But Monday, researchers reported in the Archives of Dermatology that as many as a third of young people who use indoor tanning facilities may be addicted to the behavior.

The study's lead author, Catherine E. Mosher, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychiatry and behavioral science at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, screened college students using two standard questionnaires designed to assess addiction and modified to assess tanning behavior. Among 229 people who said they had used indoor tanning facilities in the past, 39 percent met one measure's criteria for addiction; 30 percent met the other measure's criteria.

Among those who scored positive for addiction, 78 percent said they had tried to cut down on the time spent tanning but couldn't, and 78 percent said they felt guilty about using tanning beds or booths too much.

Further, 26 percent said that, when they wake up in the morning, they want to use a tanning bed or booth, and nearly one in four admitted that they had missed scheduled activities -- social, occupational or recreational -- because they decided to go to a tanning facility.

The findings are the latest to suggest that tanning, whether natural or indoors, activates the same parts of the brain triggered by drug dependence.

From age 16-18, I visited tanning beds before formal dances and to keep my legs looking tan in my cheerleading skirt. (The full story of my sordid tanning salon past is here.) I never felt addicted to the behavior and when I wanted to stop, it was easy for me to do so. Do you think tanning can be addictive? Or is this just the latest study to medicalize a behavior as an "addiction" (see: videogames, work, cheeseburgers)?

Rachel Saslow

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 20, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
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I’ve seen this for those who don’t believe it and the patients won’t switch to spray on tans which would make sense to me if it were just being addicted to seeing themselves as tan. Hence; addiction; it never “makes sense”.Any 12-step group theoretically works for an acddiction for those who are interested. .
Kim Crawford,M.D./Anti-Aging Mind,Body,Skin Care

Posted by: doctorkim1 | April 20, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Please stop using the word addictive when you mean obsession. There is an important difference. Using "addiction" for these kinds of things makes real additions seem trivial.

Posted by: tnthinker | April 20, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Oh please. A sampling of 229 college students is not representative all young adults, is it, really? And take away the $$$ to pay for the tanning & the behaviour will dry up pretty quickly. And thanks, tnthinker, I agree. The word addiction is tossed about so casually in our world when obsession is really a much better description.

Posted by: PorthosAD | April 20, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

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