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Jul 2012  |  By Christy Coughlin  |  Comments

Risks of Tanning Addiction

The hot summer weather has arrived along with the blazing sun.

Summer means time at the pool, beach, boating, outdoor sports and for many, a deep, dark tan. Despite a plethora of information about the dangers of excessive sun exposure, devotees are still risking life-threatening skin cancers and premature aging of their skin. Why do they keep tanning?

According to Research Professor of Dermatology at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine June K. Robinson, people enjoy the sun for a variety of reasons. Many find it relaxing to sit in the warm sun and enjoy socializing with friends at the beach. Exposure to ultraviolet light leads to the release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins that are linked to both pain relief and euphoric feelings.

Many tanners are convinced they look thinner, and more attractive with a tan. And the combination of feel-good brain chemicals and the perception of improved appearance can be addictive.

The dangers of overexposure to ultraviolet light are real. The statistics for skin cancer in 2012 are:  

  • 3.5 million new cases with potentially disfiguring results
  • 76,000 cases of melanoma  
  • 8,000 melanoma deaths
  • 4% growth of melanoma cases from last year
  • 50% growth of melanoma cases over the last 25 years


The booming indoor tanning industry has made it easy for young women (and their mothers) to become addicted to tanning. Dr. Robinson says the use of tanning beds has made skin cancer the second deadliest cancer in young women, and they now have cancerous growths on the trunks of their bodies, rather than just their lower legs. In 2009, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved UV tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category— "carcinogenic to humans." A federal excise tax of 10% and a Chicago ban on the use of tanning beds by minors, are working to discourage this dangerous trend.

If the risk of skin cancer isn’t enough, sunlight and tanning beds damage the protein that gives shape and elasticity skin. Skin loses its flexibility, begins to sag and form wrinkles. The younger you are when you start tanning, the earlier your skin will develop wrinkles. Women in their 20s show the effects of too much sun; looking much older than their years.  

For those who love a tan, Dr. Robinson encourages the use of spray tans and tanning lotions for a safe golden glow. She is impressed with the results of both options in achieving a pleasing, even, healthy “tan.” 

Dr. Robinson knows summer activities beckon us all to get outside but she suggests the following precautions:

  • Use a water resistant, high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen that you like and will use daily.
  • Try a spray-on sunscreen for kids and men.
  • Look for a cream with a pleasant scent and texture so you’ll use it every day.
  • Socialize or relax at the beach under an umbrella.
  • Wear a hat and lightweight protective clothing when practical.
  • Limit exposure in the middle of the day between the hours of 10-2.
  • Check out this powerful video "dear 16 year old me" and forward it on to your kids.


Wear your beautiful, natural skin tone or a fake, golden glow, and reduce the risk of dangerous skin cancers and premature aging by staying safe in the sun this summer.

http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/depts/dermatology/faculty/clinical/robinson.html



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