Spain becoming 'addicted to tanning'

  • 26/08/2015

Spaniards are being warned about the health risks associated with tanning beds and salons, with one dermatologist warning the nation is becoming addicted to tanning.

The Spanish capital receives an average of 2,749 hours of sunshine per year, according to the Spanish weather agency, double the amount received by London.

But some tanning salon customers, like 36-year-old dancer Jose Manuel Rodriguez, says he comes to the salon up to three times a week "in order not to lose [his] natural tan".

Jose Carlos Moreno of Spain's academy of dermatology, (AEDV), calls this need to be tanned an addiction.

"They are people who never feel that they are tanned enough," he said, before comparing them to "anorexics who always feel like they are too fat".

Their profile: mainly women and people under the age of 40 – based on study participants – who tan more than two times a week to the point of obtaining an excessively orange or chocolatey skin tone.

Tanning salons emerged in the 1980s in the United States, and researchers in the United States have been talking about tanning addictions – dubbed "tanorexia" – since the 2000s.

The symptoms are similar to those of heroin addiction, according to Joel Hillhouse, a professor of public health at East Tennessee State University in the United States who has studied the psychology of tanning.

They include a desire to tan on waking, a need for increasingly bigger "doses", feelings of anxiety when not tanning and annoyance when friends and family comment on their excessive tanning, he said.

Some people continue to using tanning beds even though they have skin cancer, Hillhouse said.

"We even had a few that were willing to admit to us that they had done things like steal money in order to do indoor tanning. They would actually take their roommate's or their parents' money," he said.

The World Health Organization has since 2012 classified UV-emitting tanning devices as carcinogenic to humans.

Brazil became the first country in the world to ban indoor tanning bed in 2009, followed by Australia in 2014.

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world with 11,000 cases per year. Melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer, and is highly linked to sun exposure.

According to Vanessa Rock, the chair of the National Skin Cancer Committee in Australia, studies have shown that sunbeds increase melanoma risk by 20 percent, regardless of age at first use.

But skin cancer rates have stabilised among those under the age of 45 thanks to "public education campaigns and greater awareness", Rock said.

In Spain 3,600 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year.

Hillhouse recommends setting up support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and try to substitute tanning with relaxing activities like yoga.