Tanning “addiction” may trigger risky behaviors

Tanning is a topic that I revisit with my patients constantly because it is such a risky business. Two new studies bring to light two things that I think are important to address: one, that indoor tanning can be linked to other risky behaviours. Two, that tanners may seeking a natural high.

Hensin Tsao, M.D., Ph.D., at MauiDerm, clinical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Melanoma & Pigmented Lesion Center and professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School says that recent date does reflect a slight decrease in tanning amongst teens. However, about 30% of non-Hispanic white females who are 16 years or older are still some of the heaviest users.

The studies found that taking the risk to tan indoors lent itself to other behaviours characteristic of risk-taking, such as:

  • Unprotected sex
  • Binge drinking
  • Illicit drug use
  • Unhealthy dieting

After conducting studies on mice, it was found that UVB radiated mice displayed higher endorphin (feel-good) levels as well as the ability to tolerate more pressure and heat. This is proof of tanning becoming addictive to achieve these feelings, and I understand how hard it can be to cut back – but given that tanning can lead to skin cancer, it’s certainly important to think about starting that process.

I always tell my patients that tanning is an addictive behaviour, and I know they cannot quit easily just as smokers can’t quit smoking easily. I usually tell them it may take a year or two for them to not tan, but they can definitely start by slowly reducing their tanning activity. I would suggest cutting back a quarter of what you are accustomed to for the first three months then try to cut back another quarter. It’s all about baby steps… And it always helps to have a dermatologist on your side for constant encouragement! Stay safe.

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