People Who Regularly Tan Are Likely to Have Other Addictions

Amy Capetta
Obsessed with tanning? You’re more likely to struggle with other addictions, according to a new study. (Photo: Getty Images)
Obsessed with tanning? You’re more likely to struggle with other addictions, according to a new study. (Photo: Getty Images)

Your tanning habit may be linked with other underlying health issues.

After surveying nearly 500 people who had either sunbathed or spent time in a tanning bed, researchers from Yale Cancer Center concluded those who exhibited a tanning dependence — aka a tanning addiction — were six times as likely to also be dependent on alcohol and three times as likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The lead author of the study explained that while the science behind ultraviolet addiction isn’t completely understood, previous research has noted that there’s a biological reaction that occurs, including production of mood-boosting endorphins.

Another noteworthy find: Tanning addicts were also five times more likely to exhibit exercise addiction, yet additional research is necessary since this particular addiction has not been well-documented.

“Tanning can become addictive much like anything else, so the findings do not surprise me,” Stacy Kaiser, a psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Feeling a compulsion or obsession to do something because it gives you a good feeling in the moment can lead to an addiction, whether we are talking about alcohol, eating, and even tanning.”

Delphine J. Lee, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., finds the study’s connection between tanning and other addictions interesting. “If there really is a type of mental health that is an addictive personality, that may spill over to anything that is potentially addictive,” she tells Yahoo Beauty.

Lee also observes the connection between the increased likelihood of a tanning addict also suffering from SAD. “It makes perfect sense because the treatment for SAD is UV light,” she says. In turn, this patient may be “more readily seeking the UV light and then having trouble cutting down on it.”

Kaiser concurs, adding that a person who greatly enjoys — even craves — tanning “would have a negative emotional experience when they could not spend their desired time in the sun because of the winter months,” she states. “And if a person has an addiction or obsession with tanning, this could cause greater levels of depression.”

One aspect of the study that Lee ponders is the increased risk of alcohol addiction yet not a nicotine addiction. “I was trying to figure out why, but maybe it’s just their population sampling.”

Both medical professionals believe that this latest research should encourage dermatologists to begin a dialogue with their patients that expands beyond basic skincare. “I do think it’s wise for dermatologists to screen for depression-related symptoms,” says Kaiser. “Just because they are a specialty doctor does not mean that they shouldn’t factor in a patient’s emotional well-being.”

Lee adds: “If someone is going to a tanning bed regularly and frequently, in addition to educating them about their risk of melanoma, I’d be helping to bring to their conscious mind that they may possibly be addicted. I would then discuss strategies and give referrals for therapy to try and work on this issue — and I would expect any dermatologist to do the same.”

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