Dermatologic Disease Awareness and Teledermatology


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The Indoor Tanning Addiction

While the number of tanning bed salons in the United States have declined by over 30% in the past decade alone, people all over the U.S. are still using indoor tanning, most prevalently among university students.[1] As stated in previous blogs, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence directly linking indoor tanning use to skin cancer as well as indoor tanning beds being labeled as Class I Carcinogen by the World Health Organization. And many wonder why indoor tanning bed use is still so common. But what many recent studies are finding is that indoor tanning can become an addiction for many users, many of which being college students.

In a world where society tells lighter skinned people, particularly women, to be tan to be attractive, those who are especially impressionable or under more scrutiny for their looks can and will turn to tanning beds to meet societal wants. And many times this means college students, 18-23 year olds. And tanning bed salon owners know it, which is why many times there are tanning salons located on or directly near college campuses.

In a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, New York, it was concluded that 28% of undergraduates in their study who had tanned indoors met the criteria for addiction to tanning and also found that a greater use of indoor tanning beds was associated with a greater likelihood of addiction to indoor tanning.[2]
In the same study it was also found that among men, indoor tanning was positively associated with symptoms of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, whereas among women, indoor tanning was positively associated with the use of alcohol, tobacco, recreational drug use and eating disorders.[3]

Former indoor tanning bed user Caitlin Garvey says, “When I was in college the tanning salon was a two minute walk from my dorm. They would draw you in by offering your first tan free. After your first time they would offer you another one ‘on them’, and another. Then I became a regular, especially during the winter months when it was cold and they offered discounts. The lights felt so good after a stressful day of studying. It honestly was hard to stop when I had a skin cancer scare with a mole on my shoulder. I kept saying I wouldn't go back, but I craved it when it got cold again. I really do feel as though I was addicted.” Garvey is like many users, whonever saw the harm until their first scare or even until their first diagnosis.

It was also found that frequent tanners were able to distinguish between otherwise identical UV and non-UV light-emitting tanning beds. In fact, 95% of tanners in this study showed an preference to tan in the UV light-emitting bed. “Participants suggested that UV tanning created a more relaxed mood and even relieved pain, possibly due to endorphin release.”[4]

So what can be done? Tanning bed use is extremely harmful even after just the first time you tan. Preventative action against using tanning beds is step one. Stopping someone from starting their addiction at earlier ages is key. Education and awareness needs to be made mandatory for college students especially on campuses with a tanning salon. For those already visiting tanning beds on a frequent basis, it should be treated as any addiction where treatment and even therapy is used to overcome underlying issues and combat feelings of withdrawal.


[1] A longitudinal test of the Comprehensive Indoor Tanning Expectations Scale: The importance of affective beliefs in predicting indoor tanning behavior. J Health Psychol July 31, 2015.

[2] Mosher CE, Danoff-Burg S. Addiction to Indoor Tanning: Relation to Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Use. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(4):412-417. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2009.385.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.