Hooked on tanning

Skin CancerCancerDeath

Bev Phinney had many sun-soaked days growing up in southern California. When Bev moved to Missouri as an adult, she couldn't suntan year-round. She could go to a tanning bed. Bev liked the warmth, how she looked and how she felt.

"It put me in a lot better mood especially after getting off work and going there immediately, yeah. Took away all the stress of the day," Bev says.

It sounds sort of like drinking or smoking. It sounds like something that could become a habit. There's even a name for it -- tanorexia. An addiction to tanning.

Bev says she believes she was addicted. She says she still wants to go to a tanning bed.

Kansas City psychotherapist Tanja Haaland says, "We know in medical studies, we see the same kind of opiate release -- endorphin release-- that individuals experience with other addictions."

Haaland says ultraviolet light prompts the release of feel-good chemicals in the body. Tanning can become a way to cope with life.

The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents the industry, says the research is flawed that shows tanning is addictive.

The group points to research showing the Vitamin D benefits of U-V light although doctors argue there are plenty of other ways to get that vitamin.

Dr. Glenn Goldstein, a dermatologist in Leawood, sees the damage to skin in people who are hooked on tanning. "We see people all the time in the office who tell us they feel they need to be in the sun or in an indoor tanning salon in order to feel good every day."

Bev tanned when she had a bad leg wound from an accident. She tanned when she didn't have the money.

"One of my friends went and bought me a gift certificate for 10 tans up there and thought that was so nice and kind. I mean, that person didn't know they were being an enabler."

Bev continued to tan three times a week even after she had pre-cancers removed from her skin. And even after her brother died last spring of skin cancer. He had melanoma.

"My mom blamed the fact that he sat out in the sun all the time, and I think that started sinking in."

How do you know if you or a loved one are hooked? Haaland says you may be if you tan eight or more times a month. But more important than the frequency, look at why you tan.

"Are they tanning to self-soothe? Are they tanning to lessen their anxiety? Are they tanning to feel beter about themselves?"

The psychotherapist says if the answer is yes to any of those, consider getting professional help.

Dr. Goldstein believes the earlier you start tanning, the more likely you are to get hooked. He favors a ban on anyone under 18 going to a tanning facility.

Kansas Lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit the use of tanning facilities by anyone under 14. In Missouri, it would be 16. Those under 18 would need parental consent.

The tanning association opposes the legislation saying the government shouldn't be telling parents how to raise their children.

Bev wants others, especially young people, to understand the risk of getting hooked on tanning. She points to her damaged, prematurely-aged skin.

"I would say you don't want to look like this. Think about it."

Bev finally stopped tanning at age 65 after her first skin cancer was cut out of her leg last fall. She knows there will likely be more cancers.

She's trying self tanning lotions, but says even after all she's been through, the urge to tan remains.

"If I could go, I would."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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