It’s no secret that indoor tanning causes premature wrinkles and drastically increases a person’s risk of skin cancer….yet, nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. annually. Some may claim innocent ignorance, but the overwhelming majority of tanners KNOW the risks, but chose to tan regardless. Why? Quite often the drive for frequent tanners to continue fake-baking is appearance-based, but could there be more to it than this? It has been speculated for years by dermatologists that tanning may actually be addictive, and a growing number of studies show evidence that a physiological mechanism may be to blame for some tanners self-destructive behavior…
Let’s talk about the science.
Ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and in tanning beds, produces opiod-like endorphins. These chemicals in the brain can reduce pain, as well as generate feelings of well-being and even euphoria. In certain individuals, this euphoric feeling can be addicting, and with repeated use dependency is likely to develop.
- In a 2004 study, researchers enrolled frequent tanners (those tanning three times a week or more) and required them to use two tanning beds that appeared identical, however one emitted UV radiation and the other did not. Over the course of the study, tanners had sessions in both beds on altering days of the week. On Fridays, tanners were given the option to choose which bed they preferred. 95% of tanners chose the bed emitting UV radiation; with the non-UV emitting bed being chosen only twice over the course of the six week study. Participants also reported a more relaxed, feel-good mood after using the beds that provided UV exposure vs. the non-UV emitting beds.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, frequent tanners exhibit signs of both physical and psychological dependence, as well as characteristics of withdrawal. When any substance causes physical dependence, repeated use of that substance causes increased tolerance, cravings, and potential for withdrawal if discontinued.
- In a 2006 study using naltrexone (a drug that blocks endorphins produced while tanning) 50% of frequent tanners given the drug before UV exposure demonstrated signs of withdrawal, including nausea and jitteriness, while none of these symptoms were seen in the infrequent tanners given the drug.
So what can you do?
First and foremost, don’t start tanning. Preventing addiction is much easier than trying to treat it. And if you are tanning now, STOP. Tanning has no medical benefit for the average Joe (get your Vitamin D from food!), so if that endorphin boost is what you’re after, try natural methods to achieve this. Go for a run, take an exercise class, eat some dark chocolate, or listen to your favorite playlist. Oh and laugh. Laughing is the best :).