Tanorexia continues as trend among college students

By Sami Godowsky
March 5, 2009

Shannon Keough

With the pressure for college girls to look good and the increasing trend of being tan, some college students take tanning to the next level.

A recent study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, found more than 25 percent of students participating reported symptoms of ultra violet tanning dependence comparable to an alcohol or drug dependence.

Carolyn Heckman, researcher at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, conducted the online survey that was sent to 400 students at VCU. The survey included questions developed from questionnaires used to measure traditional substance abuse and dependence.

The survey asked students questions about the need to tan, increasingly frequent feeling discomfort when not tanning and being unable to control yourself from tanning despite knowing the harmful side effects.

Heckman was alarmed to find results concluding that 27 percent of students surveyed were classified as tanning dependent. Forty percent of those surveyed had used tanning booths and the average age when first began using tanning booths was 17.

So is tanning an addiction for college students?

“I don’t really think people are ‘addicted’ to tanning. I worked in a tanning salon, and had a lot of regulars. People just feel better when they’re tan so they go more often,” senior English and communication major Vanessa Zeller said.

A similar report was conducted to determine if college students were addicted to UV tanning. The report was titled “UV light abuse and high-risk tanning behavior among undergraduate college students,” published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, conducted by dermatologist Robin L. Hornung, MD, MPH, FAAD, Division of Dermatology at the University of Washington and the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle. Hornung also used a standardized testing tool to measure the existence of a substance-related disorder (SRD).

This survey included questions such as, have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your tanning, have people annoyed you by criticizing your tanning, have you ever felt bad or guilty about your tanning and have you ever thought about tanning first thing in the morning.

Of the total 385 college students that were surveyed, 76 percent of the female students reported intentionally tanning, as opposed to only 59 percent of male students. Students surveyed were asked about to having a history of skin cancer in their family, 77 percent still intentionally tanned outdoors and 45 percent used indoor tanning.

How accurate are these studies from a psychological point of view?

“Addiction to tanning could occur because, like any behavior that has become habitual, it has become reinforcing. Tanning can release endorphins [neurotransmitter] in the body, which causes the feeling of elation. Specifically, light exposure, such as in tanning, increases serotonin [another feel-good neurotransmitter] in the body. Thus, tanning makes one feel good [and look good, according to our contemporary standards of beauty] and so people engage in that behavior,” Dr. Melissa S. Terlecki, psychology professor, said.

How do students at Cabrini feel about these studies?

“I tan regularly because with the stress of school and everything else tanning really relaxes me, but I would not say I am addicted to it,” Courtney Esbin, junior elementary and special education major, said.

If you are looking to be tan but in search for a healthier alternative, there are several other options. For example, many celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Eva Longoria maintain a healthy tan by going spray tanning instead of using tanning beds. There is the UV-free Mystic Tan available at Hollywood Tans. Also, gradual tanning creams such as Jergens Natural Glow can be purchased at drugstores.

Sami Godowsky

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