Tanning Addiction; Dermatologist's Personal Story

Cynthia Bailey, MD|June 22, 2010

The New York Times online health blog yesterday featured a fascinating article about tanning addiction, Addicted To Tanning?  One of the most interesting aspects of the article was a study showing that chronic tanners experienced withdrawal symptoms (jitters and nausea) when they were given the narcotic withdrawal drug called naltrexone, suggesting that pleasure-giving endorphins may be part of tanning addiction. Well, I just had to post a comment on the New York Times!  I’m surprised at what memories came up for me when I read the article and wanted to share my comment with you.  Here is the comment I left on the New York Times online health blog concerning the article:

I’m a practicing dermatologist and was probably addicted to tanning as a teen and young adult. I was unable to stop tanning in spite of having surgery for a skin growth that was at first thought to be a very aggressive melanoma. In the end the growth was not cancer, I did not have the lower leg amputation recommended by my first dermatologist, but the scare did not deter me from tanning.

It wasn’t until my dermatology residency in San Diego that I found the resolve to stop; seeing sun damage and skin cancer in patient after patient was like the shock therapy used to help people stop smoking. For the last 25 years I’ve avidly sun protect my skin. Interestingly, my facial skin texture looks younger now than when I was in my 20’s and tanning. Also interesting is that my family now has a strong family history of melanoma and I’m convinced that if I had continued tanning I probably would not be here today.

As for vitamin D, fair skin makes all it needs in the first few minutes of sun exposure. Continued exposure actually starts to break the vitamin D down. Knowing that sun protection is never perfect, I recommend sun protecting your skin, and the ‘margin of error’ usually lets enough sun into your skin for vitamin D production. To really know what your vitamin D needs are, get it measured and ask your doctor for advice. I find there is very little correlation between patients that sun protect or tan and vitamin D levels. My specific advice and more information on vitamin D is available on one of my recent blog posts.

It's funny that I didn't go into dermatology because of this early near brush with cancer.  It's also funny that it took my residency experiences to get me out of the sun, now I know why. You may also want to read my sun protection advice: 5 Steps For Smart Sun Protection If You Want A Nice Sunburn Use Last Year's Sunscreen How To Pick The Best Sunscreen Are Your Summer Clothes Good Enough To Be Sun Protective Clothing Photo Attribution:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garylerude/ / CC BY-ND 2.0