Tanning Addicts Crave Color

By Monica Dean
|  Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009  |  Updated 8:02 AM PDT
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The heat in the tanning bed can be comforting.

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Tanning Addicts Crave Color

Doctors say the obsession with having that "just back from vacation" glow -- is a real concern for some people -- and there may be a physiological explanation behind the addiction.
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The obsession with having that "just back from vacation" glow is a real concern for some people but doctors say there may be a physiological explanation behind the addiction.

Tammy Deboe says she was addicted to tanning.

"I would find myself going every day. And if I didn't go one day it was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm getting white.' So yeah, it did become an addiction," she said.

She started frequenting tanning beds in high school. It wasn't long before she got a job in a tanning salon, where she worked for four years.

"It was popular, you know. It was better than going to the beach," she said.

She liked the color and the way the experience made her feel. "More than my appearance, probably psychological," she said.

Tanning gave her a rush.

One local psychiatrist isn't surprised. Studies show tanning releases endorphins, an opiate-like substance produced naturally in the body that makes you feel good. So good, some people get addicted. Some patients even report withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit tanning according to Heywood Zeidman, M.D. with Alvarado Hospital.

"Even though they know they shouldn't they come more often, they stay longer," said Zeidman.

People with a past history of addiction or obsessive compulsive disorder are more prone to becoming addicted to tanning, according to Zeidman. Tammy said she can relate. She said that when she worked in a salon it was easy to get a fix -- tanning more often for longer periods of time.

"And then I would come home with a burn or go too long and then I would think 'Oh my goodness,'" she said.

Of course, the dangers of exposing yourself to UV-A and UV-B rays are serious.

"Ironically, most of my patients at first will deny they're going to it, because they're embarrassed," said dermatologist Dr. Darrell Gonzales with Scripps Memorial Hospital. "My strongest advice is stop doing it. It really isn't healthy for the skin. You're exposing yourself to an increase risk of skin cancer."

Tammy knew her behavior was risky. "It will give you freckles, skin cancer, your skin just turns to leather," she said while still tanning. "You can't reverse it and you'll regret it."

She scaled back her trips to the salon but she still went tanning twice a week in the summer.

The doctor's advice on breaking the cycle:

"It's easy for me to say it but stopping cold turkey is probably the best method for stopping those tanning salons. And really try and supplant it with a health behavior such as exercising," said Gonzales.

A moderate amount of sun-exposure is important to get enough Vitamin D most doctors will agree but they say most people will get all they need through their normal daily activities.

In recent weeks Tammy Deboe told us that she's decided to quit tanning, cold turkey.

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