Study: One-third of tanning bed users meet addiction criteria

June 1, 2010

A recent study documenting addictive behavior in indoor tanners suggests physicians must change their tactics in addressing such individuals, say study authors and a dermatologist.

Key Points

National report - A recent study documenting addictive behavior in indoor tanners suggests physicians must change their tactics in addressing such individuals, say study authors and a dermatologist.

The study shows that among 229 indoor tanners screened, 39.3 percent met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV-TR criteria, and 30.6 percent met CAGE (Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener questionnaire) criteria for addiction to indoor tanning. Such students also reported more anxiety symptoms and use of alcohol, marijuana and other substances than peers who did not meet criteria (Mosher CE, Danoff-Burg S. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(4): 412-417).

An earlier six-week study showed that after experiencing a tanning bed that emitted UV rays and one that didn't, nearly all patients chose the UV-emitting tanning bed when given a choice (Feldman SR, Liguori A, Kucenic M, Rapp SR, Fleischer AB Jr, Lang W, Kaur M. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Jul;51(1):45-51).

Mood booster

Somewhat similarly, a pilot study showed that tanning bed UV rays improved mood and McGill Pain Questionnaire results for patients with fibromyalgia (Taylor SL, Kaur M, LoSicco K, Willard J, Camacho F, O'Rourke KS, Feldman SR. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jan;15(1):15-23).

Ultimately, Dr. Rigel says the new study perhaps explains why dermatologists' message that tanning can lead to skin cancer is failing. Accordingly, "We must change the way we are trying to educate the public regarding tanning" by collaborating with mental health colleagues such as addictive-behavior experts, he says.

However, says John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, "This study ignores a few key facts. Without UV light, a human being will die, and typically 'addictions' do not fall into this category."

The study also fails to show that indoor tanning leads to addiction, he says. "Rather, it suggests that some people, who show addictive tendencies, may also tan more than they should." Finally, he says addiction itself is a topic so complex that "It is highly unlikely that a single study could lead to a sound conclusion on the matter."

Study co-author Catherine Mosher, Ph.D., says, "Further validation of these measures of addiction to indoor tanning - such as correlating the study's self-reported measures with objective measures of UV exposure - is necessary."

She is a postdoctoral research fellow, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.