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Published:July 26th, 2006 13:04 EST

Tanning May Be Addictive

By Maria Grella

Research has suggested that tanning can be habit forming, especially to teens. Though it is common knowledge that the sun`s rays are harmful, there are still people who bake themselves, emerging with not only a dark tan, but possibly a new addiction. The addiction is described as the abuse of ultraviolet light. Individuals who habitually tan may have evidence of sun damage, including freckles and wrinkles due to exposure of UV rays. A sure sign of this compulsion is if the tanner disregards these signs, and continues to subject themselves to the sun.

People may tan for aesthetic purposes, believing they look better or more vibrant in darker shades, but what they don`t realize is the damage they are causing to their skin. It goes beyond summer days, too; tanning salons are booked solid during winter months, and around prom seasons, as each customer aims for that special glow for their special night.

But is tanning addictive? The study by the researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston may explain why many people continue to tan, despite widespread campaigns to alert of the dangers to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Using the cage questionnaire, researchers interviewed beach-goers regarding their sun habits. The cage method, which is used to determine alcohol and drug abuse, is also applied for ultraviolet light abuse. C stands for cutting down; the question posed here is if the tanner ever feels the need to cut down on his sun bathing. A is for annoyance; does the beach-goer ever become annoyed with others asking about his sun tanning? G brings guilt; does the sun tanner feel guilty about the amount of time spent tanning? Finally, E is for eye-opener; does the desire to catch the rays hit as soon as the person wakes up?

Some skeptics don`t agree that sun addiction can be classified as a recognized disorder, but the findings supported the theory. The results found that 26 to 53 percent of beach-goers met the criteria for addictive behavior. There has been other evidence suggesting that tanning increases endorphin production, which could be addictive, explaining why educational interventions haven`t been more successful.

Research shows that approximately 80 percent of sun exposure and damage occurs before the age of 18. The group most at risk are teenagers, especially young women. In a published study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 40 percent of white female teens, ages 13 to 19 have used a tanning booth at least once, compared to only 12 percent of males. Twenty-eight percent of girls had used a tanning booth 3 or 4 more times, versus 7 percent of boys.

Studies also show that those who know about the injury the sun can do still use tanning beds and expose themselves to ultraviolet light. Since teens are the most vulnerable, it is important for parents and teachers to reinforce the ways in which to reduce sunburns and damage. Teens, often feeling invincible, do not realize the effects sun bathing has on their health until later in life. Wrinkles, "leathery" skin, cancer and eye problems are some of the delayed effects from sun exposure.

State laws have been passed to keep children and young teens from patronizing tanning booths. Age limits have been set on indoor tanning, helping to decrease the number of youths using these facilities. By 2003, three states had set restrictions; Texas at 13 years old, Illinois set at 14 years old and Wisconsin at 16 years old. A study by the University of Colorado found that in states with age restrictions, 62 percent of tanning salons wouldn`t allow a 12 year old to tan, compared to 18 percent of salons with no limits.

Changing the sun habits of teens is an imperative cancer prevention strategy. Adolescence is a critical period during which UV radiation increases the risk of skin cancer. Researchers urge public health officials to take action against this under-recognized carcinogen exposure. Currently, the American Medical Association is pushing for nationwide age limits.

Dermatologists at the University of Michigan Health System say even one trip to a tanning bed can cause damage in DNA that can lead to skin cancer. The mistake some people make is base tanning. Before heading off into sunny weather, some will visit a tanning booth to get a base tan, thinking that their dark skin will be a deterrent for UV rays and sunburns. This myth is untrue. Tanning booths usually have about 95 percent ultraviolet A, (UVA,) light and 5 percent ultraviolet B, (UVB,) light. UVB light has been linked to sunburns and skin cancer for awhile now, while UVA light was relegated only to aging the skin. Now, UVA has also been linked to skin cancer and genetic damage to the skin. Base tanning gives the skin a protective factor of about 4, which is a lot less than the recommended SPF 15.

So, what can be done for sun addicts? Psychotherapy, alternatives to baking, such as spray-on tans or creams, the use of sunscreen and avoiding the sun altogether are ways to combat sun damage to the skin. General rules to be safe in the sun, include sunscreen as a must. Applying sunscreen often and liberally to exposed areas is a good way to avoid sun damage. The Sun Protection Factor, SPF, should be at least 15 with broad-spectrum protection, protecting from both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to re-apply every two hours, and after swimming or sweating and check that kids are also using sunscreen. The sun can strike even on overcast or cloudy days. To save face under the sun use a daily facial cream and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher. Protective clothing that is long sleeved and light weight helps the skin to stay healthy. Wear a hat to protect your face, neck, ears, eyes and the sensitive skin on your head. Sunglasses worn should block 99 to 100 percent of the sun`s rays.

Stay in the shade between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun`s at its strongest. Take precaution near water, snow and sand. Eighty-five percent of these hurtful rays can be reflected off these surfaces, increasing the risk of sunburn. Vitamin D can be obtained through healthy diet and supplements, rather than the sun. Cease the use of tanning beds and sun lamps. Not only does wrinkling occur, but the risk of skin cancer is greater. If it`s the tan look you`re going for, use the fake-bake method. Make-up can achieve the bronze look without the health risk. Sunless tans derived from creams and chemical sprays offers a safer alternative without UV rays, but it`s important to continue to use sunscreen when heading outdoors.

Also, if you notice changes on your skin, see a dermatologist immediately. If caught in the early stages, skin cancer is treatable. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. If detected early on, both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma can be successfully treated. Melanoma, on the other hand, is more threatening. They usually appear as a mole in the skin, and then spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of skin cancer include sores or lesions that do not heal, changes in color, shape or thickness of a mole, and bleeding, itching or pain.

Another important aspect to keep in mind when dealing with signs of melanoma are the "ABCDs." The letters stand for asymmetry, border, color and diameter. Your exposed skin, along with places difficult to see, like the scalp, eyes and under the nails should be checked. Asymmetry is when the mole is unevenly shaped, or one side doesn`t match the other. The outer edge of the mole is the border, and normally should be smooth. A mole with blotchy or ragged edges should be seen by a physician. There should be an evenness of color, not a mix. If the mole appears as black, brown and red, this indicates an irregularity. The diameter of the mole should be less than six millimeters, (roughly the size of a pencil eraser). Larger moles should be examined by a dermatologist.

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