Researchers at CU Anschutz in Denver have found a link between indoor tanning, substance abuse and other risky behaviors.
“We were surprised by the association between recreational drug use and indoor tanning among high school students,” said Dr. Robert Dellavalle, Associate Professor of Dermatology with the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
The researchers gave surveys to over 12,000 high school students in Colorado, and found that risky behaviors are often exhibited by people who use indoor tanning beds. This study was recently published in JAMA Dermatology.
“Heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol; all of them are used at higher rates in high school students who are indoor tanning,” Dellavalle said.
However, when talking to CBS4 Dellavalle said that they can’t say that one causes the other.
“UV light releases endorphins and can stimulate, makes you feel good and some people get addicted to that feeling. That type of addiction might also be at play with people who are more prone to use recreational drugs,” said Dellavalle.
Drug addiction rewires the addicted person brain to believe it needs the extra dopamine the substance or activity gives them for survival. This is why it is so hard for someone who is addicted to stop using.
Indoor Tanning also rewires those same pathways, which changes the person’s motivation. He or she may start to see tanning as more important than other activities that are more necessary to living a healthy life.
“For example, indoor tanning and use of steroids may both stem from the motivation to enhance one’s appearance,” he said. “Data also implicate addictive physiological pathways in indoor tanning that may be similar to those of substance abuse.”
Amy Spearman, who admits to using a tanning bed often said, “I started probably at 14 or 15. I was a cheerleader in high school so I tanned every lunch hour that I could. I love it because it’s kind of like a warm nap.”
The analysis showed females were almost twice as likely to engage in indoor tanning as males.
It’s important to note that indoor tanning is not limited to women. The research has shown a strong association between men who use anabolic steroids and go indoor tanning.
According to CBS, the FDA is proposing anyone under the age of 18 should not be allowed to use indoor tanning equipment.
Similar proposals in Colorado have failed in the Legislature.