Tanning Addicted? Maybe It’s Because You’re SAD

Tanning — whether out in the unprotected sun or using an indoor tanning facility or device — has been so thoroughly proven to be dangerous that many states ban the use of tanning beds by people under 18. Yet skin cancer rates related to UV exposure and tanning continue to go up, especially among younger women.

Why do people who know the dangers continue to tan? Why do so many claim to be addicted to the process or demonstrate definite patterns of dependence?

A new study from the Yale School of Public Health suggests some interesting possibilities.

Researchers discovered a higher propensity toward other addictive behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or “exercise addiction,” among study participants who described themselves as addicted to tanning. While this may indicate addictive personality issues, there was one other correlation that the researchers found intriguing. Tanning-dependent subjects were three times more likely to experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) than non-tanners.

SAD is a type of depressive disorder keyed to the change of seasons, with patients generally exhibiting sadness, sleep and eating disorders, generalized aches and pains, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities during the late fall, winter, and early spring months when there is less available sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder is commonly treated with exposure to controlled, filtered light.

Those who can’t stop tanning might well be using the tanning bed to self-medicate for seasonal depression, the study posits. There is even a possibility that the co-addictions to alcohol and exercise may be attempts to fight SAD or other depressive disorders as well. Sunlight and artificial tanning rays stimulate the body’s production of endorphins, the hormones that contribute to our feeling of well-being and happiness. So does exercise. And alcohol, though actually a depressant, initially stimulates the reward areas of the brain, distracting us from feelings of sadness or depression.

It is certainly possible that these links are only circumstantial. Tanners may also be addicted to exercise because they are highly conscious of how their bodies look. Those who abuse alcohol may also abuse other things like tanning. But the SAD connection is a good one to explore if you are trying to kick a tanning addiction (which we strongly urge you to do, for the sake of your health, your skin, and your beauty!).

Your physician can arrange tests for SAD and other depressive conditions and can recommend treatment that lifts your spirits while not sacrificing your health. At Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena, we offer a wide variety of sun protection products, plus treatments to help restore your skin’s natural, youthful glow and stop UV damage before it turns disfiguring or deadly. Contact us to get help kicking the tanning habit.