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Tanning Bed use Linked to Addictive, Anxious Personalities

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Findings from researchers link use of tanning beds to individuals with addictive and anxious personalities. Repeated exposure to the harmful effects of tanning beds, despite efforts at public education, is the same type of behavior seen in substance-related disorders, and some people may be addicted to tanning itself, suggested by a new study.

The findings come from researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who screened 421 college students with questionnaires used to target addiction, but modified to screen for addiction to indoor tanning beds. The students were also assessed for anxiety, depression and substance use, using a standardized measurement tool.

The scientists say that among 229 individuals who used tanning beds, 39.3 percent met one criterion for tanning addiction, while 30.6 percent met a second criterion. Students identified as having a tanning addiction were more likely to be anxious, drink more alcohol, and smoke marijuana.

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Catherine E. Mosher, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychiatry and behavioral science at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says "They know it's bad for them. This is not about appearance. It's for relaxation, to improve mood or to socialize."

Mosher explains, “There might be a similar mechanism underlying substance-use behavior and tanning behavior. Both may be ways of coping with emotions. There may be similar processes in the brain involved that need to be uncovered."

In order to reduce skin cancer, the most serious of which is melanoma, the authors say individuals who repeatedly use tanning beds may need treatment for an underlying mood disorder. They also suggest that indoor tanning bed users could be screened for anxiety and depression and referred to an appropriate mental health professional – those who tan year round may need more intensive therapy.

Arch Dermatol. 2010;146[4]:412-417