Study Shows Links Between Tanning and Addictive Behavior

"It helps us craft our messages in a way I think will help us get through a little better," Turnham said.

Tanning Can Be Dangerous, But Is It Addictive?

While excessive tanning can prove destructive, and many frequent tanners know this and tan anyway, that alone does not make it addictive.

"It takes a long time to formally classify something as an addiction," said Suzette Glasner-Edwards, a clinical psychologist and researcher in UCLA's integrated substance abuse programs. "Typically it takes a lot of research studies to see if all the symptoms ... really conform to how we understand addiction to other things. It's a pattern of progressively losing control over a behavior. There are a lot of different ways we assess whether a person has lost control over drinking or drug use."

Glasner-Edwards explained that behavior would have to go beyond self-destructive and impair other areas of their life as well, such as social interaction and recreational activities.

"If they don't have impairment in their life as a result of it, then they won't get that diagnosis," she said.

Dr. Bryon Adinoff, chief of the division on addictions at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said that imaging studies may be necessary to link brain responses to tanning and establish it as an addiction.

"There's a suggestion that frequent tanners do display behaviors that are consistent with an addiction, but we'd like to have more information," he said. "There's always a danger of labeling any excessive, destructive behavior as an addiction."

Some possible mechanisms have been suggested.

One is that UV rays can help release endorphins in the human body, giving a natural "high."

But, "there's mixed evidence regarding this issue," said study author Mosher, reflecting the sentiments of a number of dermatologists.

Still, some say the seemingly addictive quality of tanning is hard to ignore.

"I think there's a very solid perception on the part of dermatologists ... that there's an addictive propensity for tanning," said Dr. David Fisher, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital. He said that studies like this one help back that up with evidence so that, "We're not just saying, yes, it's our perception."

But it remains to see how those perceptions can be translated to frequent tanners.

Setzer was luckier than most with melanoma. The condition was caught early, and so after surgery she did not need further treatment.

Looking back, she recalls enjoying her tanning.

"It was a very relaxing experience. I felt very calm afterwards," she said, but she added: "That relaxation was really minimal compared with the stress of a cancer diagnosis."

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