With my previous posts on sun safety, I thought that it was a good time to discuss those who don’t heed the warnings about the risks of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation and are addicted to tanning. 

We all saw the pictures of the New Jersey mom who seemed to live in a tanning bed, and the media termed her “tanorexic”. I also take care of plenty of teens who seem to fall into this category as well. They are easy to spot as they are tan throughout the year, even on areas they “shouldn’t be”. 

There is actually data to show that tanning changes brain activity.  Researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center did a study with participants who used tanning beds.  They found that brain activity and blood flow in tanners is similar to that seen in people addicted to drugs and alcohol.  The rewarding effects in the brain may be due to an opiod release that occurs during tanning.  If frequent tanners missed tanning sessions they experienced withdrawal like symptoms and related that they were compelled to continue the tanning behavior. 

While UVA and UVB radiation both play a role in the development of skin cancer, artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is used most commonly in tanning beds and sun lamps. Compared with solar radiation, artificial UVR contains 10 to 15 times the amount of radiation.  This is concerning as there are more than 1 million Americans (many of whom are teens) who use artificial tanning methods each day, putting them at even more risk for the development of skin cancer. 

If estimates are correct and more than 25% of lifetime sun exposure occurs within the first 18 years of life, avoiding artificial tanning would seem to be prudent. There are melanoma studies showing that artificial UV light exposure increases the risk of developing melanoma by 74% so why would you allow your teen to tan?  In many states bills have been passed to regulate  tanning access to minors.  But even with these laws in effect, some parents continue to “sign” to allow their children to tan, I know this from my own patients.  

So, while tanning may make you feel “good” for the short term, like many other things in life it is not good for the long term. Just another topic for discussion with your teen. 

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.