Excessive Tanning Could Be A Sign Of A Deeper Problem

People who tanned a lot were more likely to have distorted thoughts about their body.

02/06/2016 07:15 am ET
Bruce Yuanyue Bi via Getty Images

(Reuters Health) - Women who use indoor tanning salons are more likely to have mood or body issues than the average person, suggests new research.

 Compared to the general population, women who reported tanning at least 10 times in the last year were more likely to be obsessed with real or imaginary flaws in their appearance, to have episodes of depression related to changes in seasons and to have high stress levels. 

"It may be the case in clinical settings that when we see people who do a lot of tanning, it may be a flag to look at other mental health issues," said senior author Sherry Pagoto of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Previous research found that people tan due to needs stemming from their mood and appearance, the researchers write in a letter in JAMA Dermatology.

"We see sometimes with tanners an effort to get tanner and tanner and a feeling that you’re never tan enough," Pagoto told Reuters Health. That type of behavior is not unlike body dysmorphic disorder, which is when people feel there is an issue with their appearance that can't be fixed.

Past research also suggests that people who tan may be at an increased risk of elevated stress and seasonal affective disorder - or SAD.

"We looked at these three things and we wanted to see if we found elevated rates among people who tan," Pagoto said.

The researchers recruited 74 women, ages 19 to 63 years, who had been tanning at least 10 times in the past year and at least four times in the past two months. 

They surveyed the women with questions that would help detect body dysmorphic disorder, SAD and elevated stress and then compared the women's scores to what would be expected in the general population.

Overall, 39 percent of the women scored high enough to likely have body dysmorphic disorder, which is typically found in about 2 percent of all people.

About one in 10 people in the general population would be diagnosed with SAD, but more than half of the study participants scored high enough to be diagnosed with that condition. 

Elevated stress was also found in about a third of the participants, but would only be expected in about 13 percent of the general population.

"It’s definitely the case that we’re seeing more of these psychiatric disorders," said Pagoto.

People should be cautious about interpreting the results, which are drawn from only 74 people, said Erin Bonar, who was not involved in the new research but has studied the mental health of people who tan.

"I would be cautious with regard to the findings of co-morbidity since these participants were not formally diagnosed," said Bonar, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

But the new findings are consistent with previous results, she said.

Pagoto said the new study suggests tanning may be a sign of a much deeper problem that requires more attention.

"For parents who have teenage and college-age daughters who tan, this may be something to think about," she said.


SOURCE: JAMA Dermatology, online February 3, 2016.

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