Despite research showing that indoor tanning increases the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, approximately 7.8 million adults in the US still engage in indoor tanning.1 A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows that the dangers of indoor tanning go beyond skin cancer and may be an early indicator of individuals who are prone to mental health issues.

Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study 2 — a large cohort of 116,434 registered US nurses (25-42 years of age in 1989) — board-certified dermatologist Erin Wei, MD, FAAD, director of bullous diseases and director of dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Westwood, and Dr. Xin Li, assistant professor at IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, found that indoor tanning behavior early in life is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety later in life.

Excluding women with a history of anxiety and/or depression, the study showed:

  • Compared to women who never tanned, those who used indoor tanning one to two times per year, three to 11 times per year, and 12 or more times per year had an 18%, 31%, and 46% increased risk for developing depression, respectively.
  • Risk of developing anxiety was also significantly higher among women who tanned three or more times a year in early life compared to women who never tanned.
  • Frequent indoor tanners were more likely to report pain, long-term night shift work, and difficulty falling asleep, suggesting tanning was possibly used for self-medicating.
  • Individuals who used indoor tanning more frequently also consumed more cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine.

“Indoor tanning is not safe, and our research shows that it is also linked to other addictive, unhealthy behaviors,” said Dr. Wei. “We know that ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning triggers the production of beta-endorphins, which can relieve pain and improve mood, but the consequences of indoor tanning do not outweigh the risks. We want people who continue to indoor tan to stop this dangerous behavior and talk with their doctors about healthy strategies to look and feel better.”  

In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the American Academy of Dermatology warns the public that becoming addicted to tanning beds is a real risk — about 20% of 18- to 30-year old white women who use indoor tanning show signs of addiction — and comes with serious health risks:

  • Using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your chances of developing melanoma by 59%, and the risk increases with each use.
  • Women younger than 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors.

Dr. Wei is available to provide additional insights on this research, discuss the dangers of indoor tanning and share healthy ways to “look tan”, such as using a self-tanning product instead.


1Guy GP Jr, Watson M, Seidenberg AB, Hartman AM, Holman DM, Perna F. Trends in indoor tanning and its association with sunburn among US adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;76(6):1191-1193. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2017.01.022.