Addicted to Tanning?

NOTE: An updated version of this post has been published on the Nutritional Aesthetics? Alliance’s blog. Click HERE to read it.
Regardless of background or philosophy, practitioners representing virtually every form of healthcare (Western Medicine and many of the different branches of alternative/complementary healthcare) agree that excessive exposure to UV rays should be avoided due to the risk of developing different types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma).?

Are small amounts of indoor tanning safe??

The indoor tanning industry has fought back over the years, claiming that only the UVB rays (short ?burning rays?) increase skin cancer risk; and indoor tanning products (tanning beds, tanning lamps, tanning booths, etc) only use the UVA (long (tanning rays?), therefore there is no risk. However, several experts and findings from recent studies have now come to the conclusion that even the UVA rays that cause the skin to tan, not burn, can cause skin cancer.
Tanning_bed_in_use_(2)According to Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, when UVA rays hit the skin, they damage the DNA of the melanocytes (cells found in the deepest layer of the epidermis that produce the body?s melanin pigment), which sends them a message and causes them to produce more melanin pigment to protect the skin from additional damage. This emergency response, that so many people consider to be a desirable skin tone, is a tan.
Additionally, David Fisher, MD, PhD, chief of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School states that there is no such thing as a safe tan, since a tan would not exist if DNA damage had not occurred. “Darkening of the skin is caused by damaging DNA. This is the same process by which cancer cells develop?if there is a tan there has to be DNA damage, and with that comes the risk of skin cancer.?

Why do people keep tanning when they know it causes harm?

The same question can be asked of cigarette smokers, as well as people who abuse alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or other substances. The answer is because they may be addicted. Tim Turnham also noted that in addition to sending messages to the melanocytes to produce more pigment cells for protection, when UV rays hit the skin?s surface they also ?start a cascade effect which causes the body to create endorphins, leading to a euphoric response? similar to the one generated by other addictive substances. This causes many tanners to become physically addicted to the UV exposure.
Recent studies on this subject were published in the April 2010 issue of Archives of Dermatology. They examined groups of college students and surveyed them on their tanning habits and thoughts about why they tan. These students were evaluated based on the DSM-IV criteria for addiction, as well as the Cut-Down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-Opener (CAGE) questionnaire which was originally developed to identify alcoholics. This 2007 study found that 39.3% of the participants met the DSM-IV criteria, while 28% met the CAGE criteria for being addicted to tanning.

Tanning addiction can start at a young age.

Cadillac_Solarium?Tanning beds are currently rated as Class I medical devices ? the same category as tongue depressors and band aids ? which carry few, if any, restrictions.? Meaning that there is no regulation or parental consent necessary for their use, even by minors. Both the FDA and the American Cancer Society consider all types of UV radiation to be carcinogenic, and ?in 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category: ?carcinogenic to humans.?? Because of this, it has been recommended that the FDA place tanning beds and other UV radiation-emitting devices into a class that requires the necessary regulation for use.

Is there a 12-step program for tanning addiction?

If you suspect that you, your child, or someone else you know has a tanning addiction, it is necessary to have them evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating addiction. Often, people with addictions or addictive personalities also suffer from other underlying mental health issues which require counseling or other professional intervention to treat.
*Image 1?by Alexis O’Toole from Who The Hell Knows Anymore, USA (tanning bed) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 2 by Froztbyte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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