24.2.14

Looking Into The Mind Of A Perpetual Tanner


Hop, Skip & Tan – Not Really - Seems The Tanning Tendencies Burn Much Deeper Than The Carefree Surface Bronze Indulgence.

Sun and skin cancer risk awareness educational campaigns have been active for years, yet we still see a good number of people tanned and carrying on with their sun-kissed lives, as if they are bronzed titanium, cancer & death proof or oblivious. Their devil-may-care, living on the edge attitude has engaged researchers to investigate what’s going on behind that charred and crisped skin mentality.

New research into the matter suggests that underlying psychiatric distress, including anxiety disorders and substance abuse, may explain why some individuals continue to tan even after experiencing serious negative consequences, such as skin cancer as well as accelerated aging.

Recently a study of more than 500 college students who tan showed that 31% met the criteria for tanning dependence and 12% met the criteria for problematic tanning. Both tanning classifications were significantly associated with scoring positive on measures of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). In addition, tanning dependence was significantly linked to hazardous drinking and drug abuse.

“It's possible that some OCD and BDD symptoms may be driving some of the excessive tanning," the lead author Lisham Ashrafioun, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, recently told Medscape Medical News. "But the results also make the argument that there seems to be something else going on besides those 2 disorders. And it could be that there's also an addiction piece to it," he added.

Overall, co-investigator Erin Bonar, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Addiction Research Center in Ann Arbor, noted in a release that although more research is needed, the findings suggest that some young adults who tan excessively experience mental health symptoms that warrant further clinical evaluation. For these people, prevention messages and public health campaigns may not be as helpful, but further assessment and treatment could be the answer.


Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical center suggest tanning beds may be addictive, causing the same type of brain activity seen in addicts. Indoor tanning may have a rewarding effect on the brain that compels users to continue. The conclusion came from blood flow studies of the brain in response to tanning bed exposure, which were conducted by the UT researchers.
For the study, participants were given a contract material intravenously. They were either really tanning or in a bed that had filters to block UV in two sessions. Before and after each tanning session, they were asked how much they felt like tanning.
The researchers saw changes in blood flow to the brain, linked to reward and pleasure, which is similar to that seen in addiction.

From all this data it is clear that “one message can’t fit all”, although tanning is a known risk for skin cancer, there is a psychological and cultural disconnect between the risk and the desire for a 'healthy glow.’ We need to understand the psyche of the tanning connoisseurs and focus on more individualized campaigns to take into account the OCD, BDD and addiction aspects of tanning.