What if you were in business that sold a popular product that was addictive? Cigarettes and tobacco you are thinking, right? Maybe so, but what if simply being out in the sun was addictive? What if the reason indoor tanning salons are so popular was because getting a tan was addictive? Crazy, right? Nope, that’s exactly what tanning is, addictive; according to the latest research published in the journal Addiction Biology.
Dermatologists have suspected that tanning was addictive and this suspicion was what led to the new research. The researchers say that dermatologists would remove skin cancers like a basil cell carcinoma only to observe the patient go right back to their tanning habit. Many patients report symptoms consistent with addictive behavior like not being able to stop tanning.
This latest research comes from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The study used frequent tanners who used sunbeds at least twice a week. Each of the tanners used the same tanning bed twice during the study. Once where they received the full dose of UV radiation and the other time with the UV radiation filtered with out the tanners knowledge. In both sessions, researchers monitored brain activity and found that with full UV radiation, the areas of the brain associated with addiction were activated. The same was not true when the UV radiation was filtered.
Additionally, when the tanners were interviewed after each session, they reported a lowered desire to tan after the sessions with full VU radiation, indicating that they felt satiated by their session. After the session with the UV radiation filtered out, they reported the same level of desire for tanning as when they arrived.
This latest research builds on a study in 2004 at Wake Forest University. In that study, researchers found that when skin cell cultures were exposed to UV radiation, they produced melanocyte stimulating hormone, which contains endorphins which acts as a narcotic on the nervous system.
This helps to explain the effectiveness of UV light therapy for people suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD). However, in those treatments, only the head and face are exposed to the UV light. In a tanning bed, the entire body is exposed and often for twice the recommended length of time. 30 million people tan indoors annually and 71% of them are women between the ages of 16-29. While all skin cancer diagnosis are on the rise, melanoma, the most deadly, is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 25-29 year olds.
While dermatologists agree that frequent tanners should reduce their exposure to UV radiation, most would like to see more research before recommending traditional therapies designed to treat addictions.