Frequent Tanning Has Addictive Effects
Frequent users of tanning beds may be getting more out of the
experience than darker skin, according to researchers from Wake Forest
University Baptist Medical Center. New evidence suggests that
ultraviolet light has "feel-good" effects that may be similar to those
of some addictive drugs.
"We had previously shown that ultraviolet light has an effect on mood that tanners value," said Mandeep Kaur, M.D., lead author.
"Now, in this small study, we've shown that some tanners
actually experience withdrawal symptoms when the 'feel-good' chemicals
Frequent tanners are those who tan eight to 15 times a month, or
more than necessary to maintain a tan. Infrequent tanners are those who
use tanning beds no more than 12 times a year.
There is a theory that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light may
produce endorphins, brain chemicals that are linked to pain relief and
euphoric feelings, and could play a role in tanning behavior.
UV light occurs naturally in sunlight and is responsible for
the tanning and burning effects of the sun. Artificial UV light is used
in tanning beds and sunlamps. "Frequent tanning is may be driven in
part by a mild dependence on opioids, most likely endorphins," said
Steven Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., senior researcher and a professor of
The researchers said that while the study is small, it supports
the hypothesis that tanning behavior may be driven by endorphins in
much the same way that the so-called "runner's high" helps to motivate
Kaur said the finding is significant because, like other risky
behaviors, it is important to understand why frequent tanners choose
the activity. Exposure to UV through tanning has been shown to damage
the genetic information in cells and is linked to the development of
skin cancer. Despite this, there was a 300 percent increase in the
number of indoor tanners in the United States between 1986 and 1996.
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.