MAYWOOD, Ill. — Amber Peterson, 31, used to visit tanning booths every other day for 10 years until she was diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer at age 26. After surgery to remove the melanoma and several lymph nodes, this blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned woman is currently cancer-free. She has since traded in tanning beds for self-tanner in a bottle.
“I was addicted to tanning. I liked the look and feel of being tan, but it could have cost me my life,” Peterson said. “Despite the warnings, no one thinks that they are going to get skin cancer. I never thought that this would happen to me. I am just lucky to have survived.”
Peterson is not alone. Julie Casey, 37, has been tanning once or twice a week since childhood. Only she has not been able to kick the tanning addiction, and she rarely uses sunscreen.
“While I recognize the risks, I crave being tan and get depressed if I do not visit the tanning booth on a regular basis,” Casey said. “This makes it very difficult for me to break the habit.”
Casey is a self-described “tanorexic.” Tanorexia, or an addiction to tanning, is common among young, white females. Approximately 20 percent of 18 – 29 year-olds use indoor tanning booths, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Dermatologists at Loyola University Health System believe tanning addictions are a legitimate health problem.
“When a person visits a tanning booth, the body releases endorphins,” said Anthony Peterson, MD, director, Department of Dermatology, Loyola University Health System. “These chemicals produce the same feelings of euphoria that entice drug addicts and alcoholics.”
This may explain why the indoor tanning business is booming. Thirty million Americans visit tanning salons each year despite the risk for wrinkles and the dangers of ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation causes approximately 90 percent of skin cancers, and the risk for melanoma increases by 75 percent if you tan indoors before age 35.
“Excessive tanning is a serious health concern in our society,” Dr. Peterson said. “We have to treat this like any other addiction and educate young women about its dangers to curb this behavior.”
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 25 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 561-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.