“You’ve got a healthy glow! Have you been somewhere hot?”
No, I’ve just spent the afternoon in the garden!
I am one of those irritating people who get a tan at the mere hint of sunshine. A hundred years ago however, I wouldn’t be gloating. Until fairly recently, women went to extraordinary (and dangerous) lengths in pursuit of a freckle-free, pale complexion. To be tanned was ugly and represented the poor, undesirable ‘working class’. That all changed the moment fashion designer Coco Chanel stepped off a cruise liner in 1922 – with a sun-bronzed skin.
Fast forward to today – no longer are lead-based skin whiteners or blood-letting beauty treatments threatening health. The present day sun-worshipping generation risk skin cancer and – perversely – increased skin aging, immune system damage and blindness.
Increasingly, research is uncovering that tanning has become more than an innocuous way to while away a sunny afternoon: For some it becomes an uncontrollable compulsion. Offering a buzz similar to taking drugs, some experts now claim that ‘Tanorexia’ is a very real addiction that destroys lives…
A Brief History of Sun Tanning AddictionTanorexia was originally coined in 1989 in an LA Times feature exploring a new tanning salon craze (this is the earliest record I could find). Six years ago, Dr Wagner Jr., from the University of Texas observed that many beachgoers (53% out of 145 in his original report) met the psychiatric definition of addiction.
More recently, small-scale experiments have found that UV light from sun beds has mood-boosting effects and can produce dependency very similar (if not indiscernible) from drug addiction. Many psychologists and psychiatrists are considering whether tanning addiction should be officially recognised and formally treated.
Test Yourself: Do you have an Addiction?
Honesty check – all of us have habits that we’d rather be rid of. Do you ever get concerned whether that morning diet coke or shopping habit has become an addiction?
One of the most basic (but extremely useful) tests for addiction is the CAGE questionnaire:
- Do you try to cut down on the time you spend doing it?
- Do you ever get annoyed when people tell you to stop?
- Do you ever get guilty about doing it too much?
- When you wake up in the morning, do you want to do it?
Two or more ‘yes’ answers normally indicate that the issue warrants further investigation.
Is Sun Tanning Really Addictive?
Which all rather begs the question: Is sun tanning truly addictive in the same way alcohol, nicotine and heroin are? Such drug habits alter the brain’s chemistry which gives that powerful ‘just one more’ drive.
Traditionally, there has been a clear division between ‘hard’ drug addictions and ‘soft’ compulsions (like gambling, self-harm and exercise). It is becoming increasingly apparent that this distinction is somewhat artificial – many habits become addictions because drug-like chemicals – produced within the body – give a very real ‘high’ (noradrenaline, endocannaboids and endorphins are seemingly produced respectively in the three examples above).
Taking the pleasure away…
Interestingly, the tanning buzz that regular tanners get from their sunbed fix can be stopped by the anti-narcotic drug Naltrexone. This recent discovery adds weight to the idea that sun tanning is something intrinsically addictive.
Should ‘Tanorexics’ be offered drug treatment?
Perhaps when the perfect anti-addiction medicine is discovered, Governments should put it in the drinking water!? At least then, no one would anyone suffer from addiction to sun tanning, TV, internet, shopping, video games, eating….
But then where would be the fun in that…?
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RELATED POST: Are you a Shopping Addict?
DISCLAIMER: Addictions (Dependency states) are serious – if you are concerned then please immediately seek help from a qualified health professional. This blog is intended for entertainment and educational purposes – not health advice. All opinions expressed are my own and are intended to stir up thought and debate – never offense.
Kaur, M., Liguori, A., Lang, W., Rapp, S., Fleischer, Jr., A., & Feldman, S. (2006). Induction of withdrawal-like symptoms in a small randomized, controlled trial of opioid blockade in frequent tanners Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54 (4), 709-711 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2005.11.1059
FELDMAN, S. (2004). Ultraviolet exposure is a reinforcing stimulus in frequent indoor tanners*1 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 51 (1), 45-51 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2004.01.053
Warthan MM, Uchida T, & Wagner RF Jr (2005). UV light tanning as a type of substance-related disorder. Archives of dermatology, 141 (8), 963-6 PMID: 16103324