Indoor tanning may provoke dependence, study shows

Photo by Evil Erin, via Wikimedia Commons

A study of a community sample of 389 non-Hispanic Caucasian young adult women aged 18 to 30 years, who had tanned indoors at least once in the prior year, has found that one in five of the women had developed a dependence on the practice.

“Although indoor tanning is becoming less common overall in the United States, research indicates that it can be a problematic behaviour for some young women similar to other forms of addiction,” said lead author Darren Mays, PhD, in a press release from the American Association for Cancer Research. “If we are to reduce this risky behaviour and ultimately reduce skin cancer risks, we must understand what factors—such as behaviours, beliefs, and psychological comorbidities—are associated with indoor tanning dependence.”

Dr. Mays is an assistant professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the study, which was published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (Oct. 19, 2017), participating women completed measures of indoor tanning dependence, indoor tanning behaviour and beliefs, and behavioural and psychiatric comorbidity.

Overall, slightly more than one in five (22.6%) of the women in the sample screened positive for indoor tanning dependence. Further analysis showed that dependence on indoor tanning was associated with starting indoor tanning at a younger age, tanning 20 or more times in the prior year, stronger beliefs about tanning, greater perceived susceptibility to indoor tanning risks, stronger beliefs about physical appearance, and depressive symptoms.

“Our study has identified a subgroup of young adult women who are dependent on indoor tanning,” said Dr. Mays. “These young women are unlikely to respond to public health messaging and we will need to develop a more intensive resource to motivate behaviour change. Given that we found strong associations between indoor tanning dependence and beliefs about physical appearance and psychological comorbidities like depression, these intensive behaviour-modification resources likely need to address these co-occurring psychological concerns.”

Dr. Mays noted that all participants came from a single geographic area—the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area—which is a limitation to the study. He noted the findings may not be the same in all non-Hispanic Caucasian women in this age group, or in other groups such as young men.

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