Tanning: Another Addiction

We know that smoking and drinking alcohol can be addicting. Some people even have a sex addiction. Studies now show that tanning, whether by the sun or in a tanning booth, can also be addicting. This is independent of the desire to look good and despite the knowledge of the harmful effects of continued ultraviolet light overexposure.

Research has indicated that although the motivation of people seeking a tan is an enhanced appearance, they also experience improved moods, a sense of relaxation and socialization all of which are commonly associated with addictions. Those who tan frequently do clearly demonstrate signs of physical and psychological dependence and have shown symptoms of withdrawal when unable to do so and this is worse in younger individuals. Withdrawal has not been seen in those who tan infrequently.

How does this occur? This has been shown to be chemically mediated as in other addictions. What transpires is that the ultraviolet light increases the release of opioid light endorphins which provide a sense of well being and a relief of pain.

Why is all of this important? It has been irrefutably shown that overexposure to ultraviolet light, whether natural or artificial, increases a person’s risk for malignant melanoma as well as basal and squamous cell carcinomas. While the latter two usually grow locally, melanomas can definitely be lethal. Furthermore, the UV light prematurely and significantly ages the skin leading to a great example of “short term gain but long term pain”. If smoking is added to this, the effect is not additive but geometric (1 + 1 = 4).

Prevention and moderation is key. Parents should emphasize to their children the importance of religious usage of a broad spectrum sunscreen. Usage of tanning booths should be discouraged or largely restricted as should frequent sunbathing. They can use the topical tanners (tans in a can) which are non-addicting but they do not protect the skin from UV damage.

If you have any questions regarding skin care, identification or treatment of skin cancers such as malignant melanoma, or to schedule a complimentary consultation with me regarding another plastic surgery procedure, please call my office at 480-451-3000.

Steven H. Turkeltaub, M.D. P.C.
Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona

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