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How to Overcome Tanning Addiction Once and for All

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Wrinkles. Melanoma. DNA damage. Those are just three of the risks associated with hitting indoor tanning beds regularly. But chances are you already knew that. A new study from Indiana University researchers surveyed 629 female students and found 99.4 percent of them were well aware that tanning causes premature aging and skin cancer.

But these women frequented the skin-sizzling death traps anyway. What gives? Simply put: Tanning makes them feel good. Nearly 70 percent of people in the study said that even though they've heard all of the ways tanning harms their bodies and their health, they still like to get a tan. Just under 84 percent credited indoor tanning beds with making them feel more attractive, but the reasons they tan aren't only skin deep: There's a chance that they're downright addicted, the study's researchers conclude. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning bed addiction is a very real thing, most likely because being exposed to ultraviolet light releases mood-boosting endorphins that keep the tanners coming back for more. Eighty-three percent of the women in the study reported feeling more relaxed and happy while tanning.

Withdrawal symptoms, just like those common among alcoholics when they stop drinking or smokers when they quit smoking, can set in when quitting tanning beds, too. One small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology blocked the endorphin response of eight frequent tanners and half of them experienced shakiness, jitters, or nausea as a result.

Sound like you? To really overcome your addiction, think about what's feeding it.

If you love the relaxation...
Find another activity that'll help you chill. "Replacing good feelings associated with a harmful behavior with good feelings related to a positive behavior should be a bedrock of any addiction treatment," says Howard Forman, M.D., director of addiction psychiatry in the department of psychiatry at Montefiore. Book a massage or pencil in an indulgent bubble bath every week.

If you love the feel-good hormones...
Consider working with an addiction specialist, who can put together a plan to break your association between tanning and happiness. He or she may suggest naltrexone, a medication commonly used to treat addictions by blocking that chemical response, but will likely also dig into the other internal and external factors in play, Forman says.

If your best friends always compliment how tan you look...
It'll be tough to overcome, but not impossible. "Telling your friends that you are really struggling with the need to be tan, and hearing these comments makes it that much more difficult to quit may help them be your allies rather than your enablers," Forman says. If you can't stop associating tan skin with beauty, try an at-home tanner, such as
one of these six, for all the glow and none of the harmful side effects. Win, win!

If you view tanning as a social outing where you can chat with the employees and other clients...
Socialize in a healthier way, such as by making a weekly date to hit yoga class with friends. But be careful not to replace your tanning habit with another unhealthy one, such as shopping, warns Nicki Nance, a psychotherapist and assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College.

If you're stumped on what's triggering your addiction...
Make an appointment with an addiction specialist, Forman suggests. He or she can help you get to the source of the issue and outline steps that'll help you recover.

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