THE BLOG
11/19/2010 08:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Indoor Tanning Addiction: A Deep Tan Might Mean Deeper Psychological Issues

Squeezing your pores, Facebook stalking, spending good money on Us Weekly -- we all have our vices. But when a vice becomes truly addictive, particularly when it could jeopardize your health, you've got to stop and take notice.

It's time to bring attention to a common vice that research shows may legitimately be addictive: indoor tanning. The practice is troubling not only because it can give you cancer, but also because it's more prevalent than you might think.

An estimated 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. each year, and 2.3 million of them are teenagers, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. A study from this past spring definitively linked indoor tanning to increased risk of melanoma. According to Miami dermatologist Dr. Debra Price, indoor tanning also increases the risk of squamos cell and basal cell skin cancer, and causes premature aging.

These facts alone are alarming, but a recent study, which illustrates that indoor tanning may also be addictive, heightens our concern. The study , appearing in the Archives of Dermatology last spring, examined indoor tanners in college, who on average visited the tanning salon 23 times a year. That's almost once every two weeks. Wow.

To gauge whether or not indoor tanning was an addictive behavior for the participants, the researchers tweaked two diagnostic screening tests, one often used to assess alcohol abuse (CAGE) and the other used to assess substance abuse (DSM-IV-TR). They found that 39.3 percent of the indoor tanners met addiction criteria with the CAGE test and 30.6 percent met criteria with the DSM-IV-TR test. Of this sample group of college students, many were, by definition, addicted to tanning.

The researchers also found that the tanning addicts were more likely to report greater symptoms of anxiety, excessive alcohol consumption and marijuana and other substance abuse, and concluded that the participants' frequent tanning could be a coping mechanism for an underlying mood disorder, not just superfluous spring break prep.

So while summer may be over, that doesn't mean we can forget about skin cancer. In 2009, the American Cancer Society estimated that 68,720 people in the U.S. got melanoma, and about 8,650 died from it that year. According to Dr. Price, melanoma is the second most common cancer in young adults ages 15 to 29, and the most common cancer in individuals between the ages of 25 and 29. Pretty scary stuff.

Sure, the health care reform bill levied a ten percent tax on indoor tanning, with even Snooki denouncing fake baking because of it (though we wonder how long she stuck to that resolution) But a behavior this pervasive and with such dangerous consequences necessitates greater public attention, not just a band-aid solution.

And those who regularly hit the tanning booth would be wise to reflect a little: Are you simply after a bronzed glow, or using some deadly rays to cope with an underlying psychological issue?