Frequent Fryers, Beware of Tanning Addiction

Some tanners are emotionally attached to tanning, study says.

December 11, 2008

Both men and women can become addicted to tanning, a new study finds.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Seeking out a tanning booth as the winter sun grows dim is unhealthy behavior. But doing it while the weather’s still warm can be a sign of addiction, according to a study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.


THE DETAILS: Carolyn Heckman, PhD, associate at Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Population Science Division in the Philadelphia area, studied 400 student volunteers from a southeastern U.S. city university. Nearly 30% reported withdrawal symptoms like fearing that their tan was fading and feeling sick, tired, unfocused, or jittery when they tried to cut back on baking sessions. People who use indoor tanning facilities during warm weather, who don’t protect their skin in the sun, who suffered a sunburn recently, or who are thin also face an increased risk of tanning dependency, the study suggests. Gender did not seem to affect the likelihood of tanning dependency, though Heckman believes women are more likely to fall into the tanning trap. “I think there is a cultural pressure on women to be attractive, tan, and thin,” Heckman says. “Tanning, like smoking and dieting, is a risky behavior women are pressured to undertake to be attractive and popular.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Laying out in the sun or in a tanning bed shouldn’t be on anyone’s to-do list for a number of reasons, among them increased odds of skin cancer and premature wrinkles. But for some people, it may be a hard habit to break.

If you or someone you know can’t seem to give up tanning, consider this:

• Science says, cut it out. Like smoking and radon exposure, deliberate sun exposure is known to cause cancer. As for tanning booths, they also damage your skin, no matter what the tanning industry may claim. One study done at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, NH, found that tanning-device users more than doubled their risk of one kind of skin cancer. For more anti-tan ammunition to help convince a tenacious tanner, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.

• Base tans are baseless. Deliberately tanning yourself so you’ll be protected from the sun is a strategy that makes no sense, says Joely Kaufman, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Miami. “Having a base color will not protect you from a sunburn,” she says. “You absolutely still need to apply a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF.”

• Canned tanning is an option. If you have to have that golden glow all year round, find a sunless tanning product that’s low in dangerous chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database, Coppertone Endless Tanning Lotion is a safe bet (though it’s animal-tested). For a bronze touch to your face, pick Coastal Classic Creations Secluded Cover Bronzer Blush; the company doesn’t test on animals and they’ve signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

Tags: sun safety
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