Carolyn Heckman

Carolyn Heckman

Fox Chase Cancer Center, USA

Title: Shedding light on Indoor tanning and tanning dependence


Heckman is a licensed psychologist who earned her PhD in Counseling Psychology from The University of Iowa and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Health Psychology and Addictions at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Her work has been funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. Dr. Heckman has recently published an edited volume entitled “Shedding Light on Indoor Tanning” by Springer Publishing.


Since the industrialization and urbanization of the western workforce, tanned skin has been perceived increasingly as attractive and fashionable for naturally light-skinned individuals. In addition to causing tanning, photo-aging, and other health effects, ultraviolet radiation (UV) is a known carcinogen. Despite increased awareness of UV risks, tanning has become increasingly popular in several Western countries including the USA. An additional UV exposure risk is tanning dependence or addiction, colloquially known as “tanorexia”. Several studies have provided evidence for the phenomenon of tanning dependence, with plausible biologic underpinnings primarily related to the opioid system. This session will provide an overview of the literature on indoor tanning and tanning dependence, including several studies from our research team. For example, we recently conducted a study of 515 young adult women who completed an online questionnaire about tanning attitudes and behaviors and a phone-administered Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview. History of indoor tanning was reported by 47% of participants. Compared to non-indoor tanners, indoor tanners reported significantly more symptoms of the following disorders: seasonal affective, tobacco dependence, alcohol use, marijuana use, illicit drug use, generalized anxiety, bulimia, tanning dependence, as well as appearance concern (all ps < .05). Frequent tanning behavior could be conceptualized as an addiction or other psychological disorder. Young women with certain psychological problems may seek relief from their symptoms by indoor tanning. These findings suggest that indoor tanners may benefit from health behavior and other psychiatric interventions in order to reduce their health risks including the risk of skin cancer development.