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New Study Shows Signs of Tanning Depedence in College Students

Posted: September 5, 2008

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Heckman and her colleagues recruited 400 students and other volunteers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia during the spring semester of 2006. Participants took part in an online survey utilizing items adapted from questionnaires used to measure traditional substance abuse and dependence. The measures assess tolerance to tanning (the need to tan increasingly frequently), withdrawal from tanning (discomfort when not having tanned recently), and difficulty controlling the behavior despite awareness of its negative impact such as freckles, wrinkles, pre-cancerous lesions and so on.

The survey included questions such as "Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?", "Do you continue tanning so your tan will not fade?" and "Does this [your belief that tanning can cause skin cancer] keep you from spending time in the sun or going to tanning beds?"

Participants were queried about their level of intentional and incidental sun exposure, tanning booth use and chemical sunless tanner use. The survey also asked about health-related behaviors such as body mass index, smoking and exercise.

"The media and lay public may know tanning dependence as 'tanorexia,' alluding to similarities to both substance addictions and body image disorders like anorexia," Heckman says. "There is some evidence that UV tanning dependence may have biological underpinnings like other addictions such as the production of endorphins as in the 'runner's high.'"

Heckman adds: "We were surprised to find that 27% of those we surveyed were classified as tanning dependent. The finding that almost 40% of those surveyed had used tanning booths, and that the mean age when tanning booths were first used was 17 is also alarming."