TIME mental health

Is Too Much Tanning a Mental Illness?

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder are more likely to be dependent on tanning
John Lamb—Getty Images

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder are more likely to be dependent on tanning

You know the type. They have dark brown skin in the middle of February and take constant trips to the tanning salon. It’s the tanning addict.

We may joke about Snooki’s bad habits, but new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that people who tan excessively also experience some mental health symptoms that should be taken seriously, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorders (BDD).

The researchers surveyed 533 tanning students at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and determined which ones exhibited behaviors dependent on tanning. Participants who responded “yes” to a minimum of three out of eight criteria points in the Tanning-DSM–a modified guide from the substance abuse criteria in the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–were classified as tanning dependent. Participants who answered yes to two out of four questions on a tanning version of a CAGE alcohol screener–which tests for alcoholism–were classified as exhibiting problematic tanning.

Researchers discovered that women who screened positive for BDD and OCD were at a greater risk for being tanning dependent. The participants who reported tanning at a minimum of nine times in the last 30 days were at the greatest risk of being dependent on it.

But calling a behavior “addicting” is serious business, and psychiatry is not quick to do so. “We have tanning addiction in the title, but we don’t jump to the conclusion automatically that tanning is and can be an addiction,” writes study author Lisham Ashrafioun. “We’re saying that we shouldn’t necessarily rule this out especially if people are tanning excessively, even if they aren’t experiencing any OCD or body dysmorphic disorder.”

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