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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
JAMA Dermatol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 August 6.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC5545115

The Association Between Psychiatric Disorders and Frequent Indoor Tanning

Limited research has explored psychiatric disorders associated with indoor tanning and tanning dependence. In a study conducted in 2006 of students at a large university in the northeastern United States, 90 of 229 (39%) who had used indoor tanning facilities met criteria for tanning dependence,1 a tanning pattern highly resistant to intervention. Given that tanners report mood and physical appearance as reasons for tanning, psychological disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), may be common among this population. Past research found that 12 of 27 (44%) frequent indoor tanners met criteria for SAD compared with 14 of 56 (25%) nontanners.2 Other studies have found that stress in general is predictive of tanning dependence,1 and tanners have been shown to report lower levels of stress after tanning. Ashrafioun and Bonar3 reported that 57 of 165 (35%) tanners who met criteria for tanning dependence also met criteria for BDD, compared with 77 of 368 (21%) tanners who did not meet these criteria. In the study described here, we assessed the prevalence of SAD, clinically elevated stress, and BDD among a sample of women who frequently use indoor tanning, and we examined bivariate associations between tanning dependence and these psychological conditions.


Seventy-four women aged 19 to 63 years who reported a minimum of 10 indoor tanning visits in the preceding year and 4 such visits during the 2 months preceding study participation completed a brief survey that assessed demographic characteristics, indoor and/or outdoor tanning habits, tanning addiction (the Behavioral Addiction Indoor Tanning Screener), perceived stress (the Perceived Stress Scale), SAD (the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire), and BDD (the Dysmorphic Concern Questionnaire). Dichotomous scores were created for the Behavioral Addiction Indoor Tanning Screener, Perceived Stress Scale, Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire, and Dysmorphic Concern Questionnaire, based on established cutoff scores in the literature. We also created a binary comorbidity variable for participants who met criteria for all 3 conditions assessed in the study or fewer than all 3, and an “any” variable, defined as participants who screened positive for BDD, SAD, or elevated stress. The study was approved by the institutional review board at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Patients provided written consent for their participation in the study.


The rates of positive screening for BDD, SAD, and elevated stress were 29 (39%), 42 (57%), and 22 (30%) of the total of 74 study participants, respectively. Rates of these 3 conditions in general global populations are 1.9% for BDD (26 of 1346 German women),4 9.7% for SAD (37 of 382 men and women from New England),5 and 13.1% for elevated stress (5 of 38 Swedish women).6 Tanning dependence was significantly associated with elevated perceived stress (r = 0.27, P = .02). Although they did not reach statistical significance, the rates of positive screening for the “any” variable (r = 0.14), BDD (r = 0.14), and SAD (r = 0.21) showed small to medium effect size estimates with tanning dependence. See the Table for additional sample characteristics.

Characteristics of the 74 Female Study Participantsa


Results of the study show that frequent indoor tanners have substantially higher than expected rates of BDD, SAD, and elevated stress based on brief screening assessments. Among those who screened positive for tanning dependence, 31% were grouped as screening positive for BDD, SAD, and elevated stress, compared with 2% who screened positive for these 3 measures among those without tanning dependence.

The study has some limitations. Owing to the small number of participants who screened positive for all 3 variables (n = 11), we could not assess the association between comorbidity and tanning dependence via inferential statistics. Furthermore, the cross-sectional design of the study prevented it from addressing temporal relationships. In addition, assessment of psychiatric disorders was based on validated screening instruments, which may not correspond perfectly with physician-based diagnostic assessment.

Results of the present study may have implications for the clinical care of frequent tanners. Given the high level of psychiatric disorders observed among frequent indoor tanners, it may be prudent for dermatologists to screen patients, or at least those who are frequent tanners, for SAD, BDD, and perceived stress. Physicians are encouraged to refer patients who screen positive for 1 or more of these psychiatric disorders to mental health professionals for behavioral or pharmacological interventions or both. Furthermore, interventions to stop tanning dependence may require addressing underlying psychological factors.


Funding/Support: This study was supported in part by grants NCIR21161576 from the University of Massachusetts (Dr Pagoto), K24HL073381 from the University of Massachusetts (Dr Pagoto), and K23MH096647 from San Diego State University (Dr. Blashill).

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funding sources had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


Author Contributions: Dr Blashill had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study concept and design: Pagoto.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Blashill, Pagoto.

Drafting of the manuscript: Blashill, Pagoto, Oleski.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Hayes, Scully, Antognini, Olendzki, Pagoto.

Statistical analysis: Blashill.

Obtained funding: Pagoto, Blashill.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Oleski, Scully, Olendzki.

Study supervision: Pagoto.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.


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