Should You Believe the ‘Tanning Addiction’ Warnings?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Many years ago, sunbathing for hours on end was no big deal. Men and women flocked to beaches and pools covered in tanning oil and looking like tanned pieces of leather.

Once scientists identified the health risks posed by our sun’s UV rays, tanning seemed to lose its universal appeal.

Yet despite the dangers, many people can’t seem to give up tanning. Now a study in the journal Cell could explain that unwavering obsession with the sun, suggesting chronic UV exposure triggers an addiction to tanning.

Tanning in Pop Culture
Perhaps it’s the intense cravings for sunlight that drive people like New Jersey’s Patricia Krentcil, aka “Tan Mom,” fashion designer Donatella Versace, or the whole cast of Jersey Shore to become “tanorexics.” Tan Mom was even arrested last April for allegedly taking her five-year-old daughter, Anna, to bake in a tanning bed!

When exposed to UV radiation, the human brain releases chemical endorphins that promote a sense of euphoria. For people who tan excessively, it is possible their bodies have become addicted to the feel-good boost obtained from UV exposure. In fact, the study found many tanning addicts experienced cravings so intense that they sought out UV rays in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Tanning and Addiction

For this study, shaved mice were exposed to UV light in low doses for a period of six weeks. After just one week, endorphin levels in the bloodstream increased. The mice were then tested for common symptoms associated with opiate use – such as low sensitivity to touch and temperature. Researchers found the mice had become numb to sensory input. However, when they were put on an opiate-blocking medication that lowered the effects of endorphins, numbness in the mice was instantly reversed.

Since the tanning addiction study was conducted on animals in a controlled environment, it is not yet known if humans experience the same addictive tendencies. Researchers speculate that exposure to UV radiation releases endorphins that activate opioid receptors – the same receptors activated when people take prescription painkillers.


Do you think tanning addiction is a real disorder? Leave a comment below!

Additional Studies on Tanning Addiction

One in seven people diagnosed with skin cancer continue using tanning beds.Additional research has been conducted on tanning addiction, including the dangers of indoor tanning beds. For example, a study published in the September 2013 edition of JAMA Dermatology found one in seven people diagnosed with skin cancer continue using tanning beds. Researchers surveyed 178 skin cancer patients, each previously diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.

Overall, 26 participants said they had used tanning beds within the four years following diagnosis. The continuous tanners sought out UV rays an average of 10 times within the past year, with some even admitting to tanning as many as 20 times. Patients who had done the most tanning prior to being diagnosed with skin cancer were much more likely to still be visiting tanning beds.

Even more frightening, the risk of skin cancer via tanning beds is more than double that of the same tanning time in the midday summer sun, according to the British Journal of Dermatology.

The risk of skin cancer via tanning beds is more than double that of the same tanning time in the midday summer sun…

Tips for Safer UV Exposure

  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF factor
  • Use waterproof sunscreen and reapply liberally
  • Cover exposed parts of the body with thin and breathable clothing
  • Check the UV index online to evaluate the strength of the sun rays

Learn more about behavioral disorders and treatment options.

Photo Source: pixabay

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