Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tanning Beds, Addiction, and Pale Mutants

"Indoor Tanning Is Addictive, Study Finds"
LiveScience (April 19, 2010)

"Some people's indoor tanning habits qualify as an addiction similar to being hooked on alcohol or other addictive substances, a new study suggests.

"The results show that about one-third of college students who frequent indoor tanning facilities could be considered addicted based on criteria used to diagnose substance abuse addiction. And these tan-o-holics also reported a greater use of alcohol and marijuana, and had more symptoms of anxiety than those who weren't considered hooked.

"The findings back up previous indications that sunbathing, both artificial and the real thing, can be habit-forming. A small 2006 study found that those who persistently visit tanning beds can experience withdrawal symptoms if they don't get their UV-high. And a 2008 study revealed that about 18 percent of outdoor tanners qualified as addicted. (Ultraviolet, or UV, rays emitted by the sun are what cause sunburns).

"The results of the current work, which is based on a larger sample and possibly more robust research methods, also suggest that reducing the risky behavior might take more than just public awareness campaigns. For some, it might require interventions more along the lines of what's used as treatment for substance abusers...."

I've run into quite a bit of silly science, as the decades roll by. (December 17, 2008) This 'tanning addiction' thing sounds like it might not be another of those weird little exercises in wishful thinking we get from the 'experts' now and then.

I'm not terribly surprised to learn that some experts say that tanning beds and booths cause cancer. For a while there, just about everything caused cancer. Except maybe water. And that drowns people. I've sometimes felt it was a wonder that some PAC didn't try to ban water, in the interests of public safety.

Tanning, though, really could be a problem. There's fairly solid evidence showing a link between (over) exposure to ultraviolet light and cancer.

A Digression on Pale Mutants

Like I said, over-exposure to UV can be bad for people. Particularly for melanin-deficient people like me.

My ancestral roots, as far back as the family's found them, are in northwestern Europe. And I look it: That's a photo of my right eye.

Homo sapiens sapiens developed - as far as we're able to tell - in a nice, sunny part of this planet. Then some of us moved to other places. Eventually, one lot wound up in what's now northwestern Europe. Like all people, they needed exposure to sunlight now and again. UV is involved in how we make vitamin D and serotonin, among other things.

Back where we're 'supposed to be,' that's no problem. Up in northwest Europe, the climate is: not sunny. The cold and damp strongly encouraged folks to cover up with furs, cloth - just about anything that would keep them warm.

My forebears kept warm, but they also were deprived of sunlight. Often, all they got was a few minutes a day, on their faces. If they were lucky.

With normal pigmentation, that's just not enough for people.

Normal people.

Something happened to that isolated bunch. We lost most of our ability to produce melanin. That made our skin pale enough for sunlight to get through - even if it was for a few minutes a day over a fraction of a square foot.

We survived, but now we look funny. Pale. Often with freckles. Leave us out in the sun too long, we burn and peel. Don't get me wrong: I've grown up among people who look more-or-less like me, and I'm used to our appearance. It can even be attractive.

But, like I say, we look funny. Different.

Somewhere in the 20th century, the idea that folks who simply can't have a normal complexion and stay healthy should be "tan" anyway caught on in America.

I make it a point to get outside on a regular basis and let my skin adapt by adding a little to the meager supply of pigmentation my ancestry gives me. But I make sure that I don't get over-exposed. I may sound like James Earl ("Darth Vader") Jones: but I've long since come to terms with the fact that I'll never have his complexion.

We're not all alike. And, I think, that's okay.

Back to Tanning, Cancer, Addiction, and All That

'Tanning addiction' may be partly psychological - but there may quite likely be a physical component, too.

"...The results suggest that tanning and drugs might be similar in terms of the way they get people hooked, the researchers say. Indeed, the UV-light from tanning beds has been shown to put people in a good mood, possibly because it triggers the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins...."

The article does a pretty good job of discussing the effects of tanning beds, and the studies of that point toward tanning being an addictive behavior. What it does not do is describe - adequately, in my opinion - the people being studied. I may have missed something, but the only demographic information I found about them was that they were "undergraduates."

Maybe the amount of melanin in a person's skin has nothing whatsoever to do with the way that person's skin reacts to sunlight or artificial UV. Somehow, though, I rather doubt it.

Generally, I don't think who a person's ancestors were is all that important. But for some things, like sickle cell anemia and a tendency to burn in the sun, it does matter where your ancestors came from.

The LiveScience article wasn't all that long, so maybe someone decided to drop references to how the researchers sorted out the people studied.

I've been talking about ethnicity quite a bit in this post: because I think it may reasonably be considered a factor in tanning addition. At least, the researchers should be able to say that, based on their data, people with normal complexions are just as likely to be addicted to tanning as the washed-out Euro-Americans.

Welcome to the Wild, Wonderful World of Coeds and College

There was a time when American "undergraduates" were, with a very few exceptions, nice young men from nice Yankee families. And their southern counterparts, of course.

That was the 19th century.

In the 20th century, women (finally) got the vote, and started showing up as undergraduates. In droves. American academia also got a bit more comfortable with the idea that people who weren't from the 'right' families might be educable, too.

Change happens.

This is the 21st century, folks. An American undergraduate is a man or woman who may bear a passing resemblance to delegates from any member state of the United Nations. Some WASPs are having conniptions about that, but I'm okay with the idea. Partly because I only look Anglo.

But I'm getting off-topic again. Time to stop writing.

An only vaguely-related post, but it might be interesting. Or not:
Related posts, at


Brigid said...

Extra word? "Particularly for in melanin-deficient people"

Also not entirely sure about use of colon in this entry.

Brian H. Gill said...


Right you are: thanks.

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