Indoor tanning: For some women, it may be addictive

August 24, 2013 | by

Some women never learn. Despite the overwhelming risks of developing skin cancer through indoor tanning beds, young white women continue to do it at an alarming rate, a new study shows. A City of Hope expert suggests that a form of addiction may be to blame.

A new study found that found that about 29 percent of white high school girls use tanning beds at least once a year, despite health risks.

A new study found that found that about 29 percent of white high school girls use tanning beds at least once a year, despite health risks.

A review of earlier studies, published in the journal BMJ, found that using indoor tanning beds before the age of 35 increases melanoma risk — the most serious type of skin cancer — by up to 75 percent. Using one before the age of 25 increases the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer by up to 102 percent.

The risks, if not the precise numbers, are widely known. And yet, researchers found that about 29 percent of white high school girls use tanning beds at least once a year and about 17 percent undergo indoor tanning frequently. Frequently was defined as at least 10 times a year.

The new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used data extracted from the CDC's 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which included responses from more than 15,000 high school students.

Even though Caucasians have the highest rates of melanoma among all ethnic groups and people with fair skin are more likely to develop skin cancer, 44 percent of teenagers admitted to have used a tanning bed by the time they were 18. By that age, 30 percent of the girls were indoor tanning frequently.

Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D, dermatologist and assistant professor in the Division of Plastic Surgery at City of Hope, has seen melanoma patients as young as 14. She believes that some patients rely on tanning to make them feel better about themselves and, in fact, become addicted to indoor tanning.

“I have seen a few young women who have a type of body dysmorphic disorder and believe they are 'ugly' and 'disgusting' if they are not tanned,” said Jung.  “For many patients, they become 'addicted' to the release of endorphins that is triggered by tanning.”

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, one out of three indoor tanners could be addicted to the practice. A 2010 report in the archives of Dermatology found that one in 50 melanoma survivors told the CDC that they continue to go to tanning parlors.

Indoor tanning has been known to damage skin and increase the risk of developing skin cancer — the most common of all cancers. Melanoma will account for nearly 77,000 cases of skin cancer in America and 9,000 of the 12,000 skin cancer deaths estimated to occur this year.

Researchers also noted that melanoma rates among white women are steadily increasing and the risk of developing the cancer increases by 1.8 percent with each additional tanning session per year.

Because tanning beds are not currently regulated, users can be getting a much higher dose of carcinogenic UV from a tanning booth compared to just lying outdoors at the beach, Jung said.

“It’s not possible to tell how much UV you are getting,” said Jung. “Almost every patient I have seen under the age of 30 with skin cancer has a history of tanning bed use.”

Reversing the trend won’t be easy. Six states — California, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Vermont — have banned the use of tanning beds by minors, but the study found that indoor tanning continues to be widespread among minors.

As a recent USA Today story reported: “Indoor tanning has grown into a $5 billion a year industry. Nearly 20,000 tanning salons operate across the USA, according to a report by IBISWorld, which publishes research on a variety of industries.”

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed increasing consumer awareness of the risks by requiring salons to add warning labels to indoor tanning beds.

Even though consumers may be aware of the risks of indoor tanning, Jung said, they just aren’t putting their knowledge into practice.

“They know it [indoor tanning] causes cancer; they just don’t think it will be them,” said Jung.