Study: UV Rays May Be Addictive to Tanners

ByABC News
July 12, 2004, 12:54 PM

July 13, 2004 — -- If you're one of those people who flock to beaches and salons for the perfect tan, the reason may be more than just skin deep. A new study shows ultraviolet radiation can provide a natural "high" that may lead to a literal tanning addiction.

The study found individuals felt more relaxed when they used tanning beds that exposed them to UV radiation than beds where the UV radiation was blocked.

Researchers speculate the effect on mood might be caused by the release of chemical endorphins when a person is exposed to UV radiation. Endorphins produce feelings of happiness and pleasure, as well as reducing pain and stress in the body. They have also been thought to play a role in alcoholism and drug dependency.

It is this drug-like effect that may explain why Americans tan despite warnings it can cause skin cancer, says Dr. Steven Feldman, associate professor of dermatology, pathology, and public health sciences at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, and lead researcher of the new study.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with about 1 million cases diagnosed in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The new research, published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, tested whether exposure to UV radiation had a psychological effect on people that could influence their tanning behaviors.

During the study, researchers evaluated the moods of 14 frequent tanners before and after their tanning sessions with both UV and non-UV tanning beds.

For two days a week during the six-week study, participants sampled both the UV and non-UV tanning beds. The beds looked identical, and subjects were not told which one exposed them to UV radiation. On the third day each week, tanners chose which bed they wanted.

They overwhelmingly selected the UV tanning beds.