People addicted to tanning may have other addictions, study finds
If you're one of the 7.8 million women (or 1.9 million men) who rely on tanning beds to get your faux (and completely unsafe) glow (according to a 2015 report by JAMA Dermatology), you may be at risk for addiction — and we're not just referring to your bronzing habits.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, which surveyed 499 people who had sunbathed or used a tanning bed, researchers from Yale Cancer Center discovered that those who exhibited tanning dependence (i.e. tanning addiction) were six (yes, six) times more likely to also be dependent of alcohol, and three times as likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (a.k.a. SAD). Tanning dependence in this case was determined with two metrics: the participants' answers to an online survey, and data gathered from a study they'd previously participated in exploring early-onset basal cell carcinoma.
Brenda Cartmel, the lead author of the study and senior research scientist and lecturer in the school's department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, says the findings — despite its miniscule number of participants — could help paint a better picture of the biological reaction brought on by time under ultraviolet light, like the production of mood-boosting endorphins.
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And San Francisco-based psychodermatologist Josie Howard agrees. "The biological rationale for tanning dependence is that exposure to UV light results not only in melanin production, but also the production of endorphins," she tells Allure. "This means that we may go back to that activity (tanning in this case) again and again to get that endorphin hit." That cycle doesn't sound unlike the one those with a drug, alcohol, or other chemical habits might find themselves facing.
"The bottom line is that our skin and mind often have a very strong connection. Whether it's acne, cold sore breakouts, or psoriasis, we often don't realize that our skin health and our mental health go hand in hand," Howard says. "In this case, for some, we see a strong connection between tanning addiction and other addictive behaviors."
It should also be noted that the study found that those with tanning dependence were also five times more likely to exhibit exercise addiction, but more research on the subject is needed to make a correlation. "One hypothesis behind the finding is that people who exercise excessively do so because they are very aware of their appearance, and they also feel that being tanned improves their appearance," says Cartmel. Adds Howard: "Or, it may be that these individuals have more of a risk taking or addictive personality type. They may be predisposed to addictive behaviors by reasons of their genetic nature and/ or their environmental nurture."
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Indoor tanning isn't safe, no matter how you slice it. (In California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington the use of tanning beds is banned for all minors under 18.) But if you are someone who likes that warm endorphin hit — which, again, we highly discourage, as those who indoor tan are 79 percent more likely to develop melanoma, according to a recent Skin Cancer Foundation 2016 Media Award-winning investigative piece by Allure — Howard recommends making an appointment with a medical professional. "First and foremost, you should always talk to your doctor about a plan that works for you, because everyone is different," she says. "This may be an opportunity to address not just your addictive tendencies but also to improve your life — your self-esteem, the quality of your relationships, and your coping strategies for the inevitable stress that we all encounter."