Tanning addiction is real and if you’re hooked on getting dark, whether naturally with the sun or in a tanning booth, you may end up seriously regretting it. Tanning is a major risk factor for skin cancer, and it can kill you. Tanning causes wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of premature aging. Research suggests that not only is tanning addiction real, but it may have a genetic component. Quitting won’t be easy, but you can kick the tanning habit and reclaim your skin and your future.
Are You a Tanning Addict?
It feels good to be exposed to the sun, as long as you don’t burn. The warmth of the sun sets off a cascade of happy chemicals, like endorphins, in your brain. It’s similar to a high that drug users get. Anything that gives you a good feeling has the potential to become an addiction. So how do you know if you’re only an occasional tanner, or if you have crossed the line into dependence on this unhealthy behavior?
Research has found that people addicted to tanning show signs of both physical and psychological dependence. For instance, you may be physically dependent if you feel withdrawal symptoms when not tanning or if you physically crave it. Another study found that addicted tanners could tell the difference between a tanning booth with UV light (the kind of light that causes the pleasurable endorphins) and one without it. Other signs of addiction include not being able to stop or cut back, even though you know your habit is dangerous, or feeling relaxed only when you get a chance to tan.
Tanning Addiction Is in Your Genes
An early study has shown that if you are hooked on tanning, your genes may be at fault. Researchers looked at DNA samples from 79 people who showed signs of being addicted to tanning and 213 people who did not. Those with tanning addiction had a specific variant of a gene called PTCHD2, which those in the other group did not have. The gene seems to act in the brain and is clearly connected to tanning addiction, but otherwise the researchers don’t know what it does. The clear connection shows that it is a major risk factor for becoming addicted to tanning.
Why You Need to Stop Tanning
Whether you can blame your genes for your bad habit or not, you need to stop or greatly reduce your time spent under the light. Tanning may make you look good now, but in the near future your skin will start to discolor, wrinkle and sag. Your main reason to stop tanning, though, should be the possibility of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., but it is also highly preventable. Exposure to the UV light that gives you the happy feelings is the biggest risk factor for developing skin cancer, including melanoma. Melanoma, when not caught and treated early, can quickly spread throughout the body and cause cancer in other organs. Once it has metastasized, it is nearly always fatal. To avoid this future, you need to cut back on your tanning, or better yet, cut it out completely. To get your tan, try artificial spray tans. And if you find that you really are addicted and can’t stop, consult with an addiction counselor to get the help you need.