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One in five sunbed users may be ‘addicted’, study finds

Scientists have tested a potential new way of screening for symptoms of indoor tanning addiction in sunbed users, showing that as many as one in five users may be addicted to the practice.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been classified as carcinogenic to humans. One important source of exposure to UV rays are indoor tanning facilities, commonly known as sunbeds. A growing body of research suggests that excessive tanning is a behaviour with addictive potential.

The study, released in the British Journal of Dermatology this week, assessed a method called the Behavioral Addiction Indoor Tanning Screener (BAITS), a brief screening survey including seven questions, on a representative sample of the German population.

BAITS was developed based on the addiction disorder model published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is designed to capture the main features of addictive behaviours, such as experience of diminished control over behaviour and temptations that lead to urges or craving for the behaviour.

The researchers used data of the National Cancer Aid Monitoring on Sunbed Use (NCAM), which includes a cognitive pretest and a Germany-wide representative survey with 3,000 individuals.

Among 330 current users of sunbeds, 19.7% screened positive for symptoms of a potential indoor tanning addiction compared to 1.8% of 553 former users who had not used a tanning bed in the last 12 months.

While BAITS is not a final diagnosis of indoor tanning addiction, which would require a more formal assessment, it does identify symptoms of a potential addiction.

Lead author Dr Katharina Diehl of the Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine at Heidelberg University in Germany explained: “BAITS can be used as a screening tool in large surveys but it may also help physicians and health care providers to identify individuals in particular need of specific counselling to avoid the continuous use of tanning beds. By this psychological testing of the BAITS, it will be proven how accurate it is in identifying indoor tanning addicted individuals.”

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “This is an interesting pilot study with two important developments: the first is a new way of measuring symptoms of tanning addiction in a large population group. The second is the finding, on testing this method, that as many as one in five sunbed users may have symptoms of addiction.

“There is strong evidence that use of sunbeds increases the risk of skin cancers, including malignant melanoma which is the most deadly type. For people who start using sunbeds before the age of 35 years the relative risk of malignant melanoma almost doubles. If indoor tanning does indeed have addiction potential, being able to assess the scale of the problem will be imperative. It certainly would help to explain why so many people continue to use sunbeds despite knowing the risks.”


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact the media team:, 0207 391 6084. Website:

The study can be found online at:

About us:
The British Association of Dermatologists is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. For further information about the charity, visit

The British Association of Dermatologists publishes two world-renowned dermatology journals, both published by Wiley-Blackwell. The British Journal of Dermatology is one of the top dermatology journals in the world, and publishes papers on all aspects of the biology and pathology of the skin.

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