There was a period in my life when I used a tanning bed. I hate to admit it, but I was a teenager, and having that tan was in — and as much as I would blame it on a fad, it was one of those things that once you started doing it, you just couldn’t stop (until you know, you realize you look orange and it’s unattractive…).
Well now, researchers are claiming that indoor tanning just may be physically addictive. Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center discovered that brain scans of frequent tanning-booth users showed activity mimicking patterns of drug addiction. They also found that habitual tanners needing a “fix” won’t feel satisfied without a nice old dose of UV radiation. Sound familiar? It sadly does to me.
According to the New York Times, scientists have long suspected that repeat exposure to UV light is addictive, and a study done in 2005 showed that a proportion of frequent sunbathers met the psychiatric definition of substance abuse disorder based on responses to a test used to spot alcoholism.
This latest round of research though is the first to show the effects of exposure on the brain, explaining why even though with warnings of skin cancer and premature aging, some tanners just can’t quit.
“What this shows is that brain is in fact responding to the UV light, and it responds in areas that are associated with reward,” said Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a psychiatry professor and author of the study. “These are areas..that we see activated when someone is administered a drug or high-value food like sugar.”
Participants who reported that they tanned at least three times a week and felt maintaning their tan was important to them agreed to participate in a study in which they were injected with a radioisotope that allowed researchers to monitor how indoor tanning would affect their brain activity. As the tanning beds warmed up, so did the brain areas associated with addiction.
In other sessions where the UV light was filtered out, participants’ didn’t feel satisfied and reported wanting to tan again, which the researchers said qualified as satisfying as a non-alcoholic beer.
All in all, this study shows that even with the risks of skin cancer and wrinkles, we may need to find other ways to defer people from tanning if it can be as addictive as alcohol or drug use. Have you found these addictive properties to tanning?