Addictive Beauty

April 30, 2010 | NeW Staff

It’s no secret that over exposure to artificial UV rays like those from tanning beds, or to the sun’s natural rays, has negative consequences. According to the National Cancer Institute, overexposure increases men and women’s chances of developing skin cancer. Overexposure can also cause thinning of the skin, decreasing elasticity, and makes it more difficult for skin to heal. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. 

Aside from the traditional detrimental health problems that accompany tanning, there may be one more to add to the list: it’s physically addicting. 

According to a new report from U.S. News & World Report, tanning bed use may actually be addictive. A portion of tanners who repeatedly visit sun lamps seem to meet standard criteria for addiction, while also reporting higher levels of anxiety and substance use. The study, conducted at SUNY Albany, found that thirty to forty percent of student tanners met one or two standard addiction criteria. One theory that may explain the addiction is biological – UV radiation can increase the activity of the body’s opioids, which may reinforce the behavior. Other individuals may use tanning as a “coping” mechanism when they are stressed or depressed. For the study, those considered addicted to tanning lay in tanning beds up to 100 times a year. Equaling out to about eight times a month, this is well over the amount needed to onset severe skin consequences. 

However, college students seem to disregard the health consequences of tanning. In addition to college students that tend to visit salons more often then their older counterparts, women are particularly bad repeat offenders. Melanoma rates among young women in the U.S. have skyrocketed 50 percent since the 1980s. A report in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology finds the incidence of deadly skin cancer rose in women aged 15 to 39 while remaining stable in men. 

Women may cite several reasons for tanning, including “it makes me feel good,” “I like the way it looks,” or tanning is “relaxing.” And while it is important to be exposed to natural sunlight to receive Vitamin D, this does not usually mean a change in skin color. A tan is often seen as healthy and beautiful. Now we know it is anything but. By starting a tanning regimen, individuals put themselves at risk for cancer AND addiction. 

I think this is something important for college women to be aware of. It’s more then easy to go tanning with friends before the weekend, or tan when feeling stressed or tired (especially around finals). Yet these are the very actions that contribute to future addiction. Be aware of your actions and consider the routines that you create for yourself. 

Have you noticed college women tanning multiple times per week? What type of rationale do they have for opting to use indoor tanning beds? 
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