The effects of tanning may be more than just skin deep. According to a study, people who use tanning beds frequently experience effects similar to those of some addictive drugs.
Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center say that the ultraviolet (UV) light in tanning beds appears to trigger the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that are linked to pain relief and euphoric feelings.
The study compared eight people who used tanning beds often (eight to 15 times per month) with eight people who used them infrequently (no more than 12 times per year).
All of the participants were given either a placebo or the drug naltrexone, which blocks the feel-good effects of endorphins and other opioids. The participants then used both UV and non-UV tanning beds.
At higher doses of naltrexone (15 milligrams), frequent tanners showed a preference for UV tanning, and four of the eight frequent tanners reported nausea or jitteriness. None of the infrequent tanners who took the drug reported these symptoms.
"The finding was unexpected and is consistent with the hypothesis that frequent tanning may be driven, in part, by a mild dependence on opioids, most likely endorphins. The nausea and jitteriness induced by the medication are consistent with symptoms of mild opiate withdrawal," according to senior researcher Dr. Steven Feldman, a professor of dermatology.
"'We had previously shown that ultraviolet light has an effect on mood that [people who use tanning bed] value," says Dr. Mandeep Kaur, lead author of the study. "Now, in this small study, we've shown that some tanners actually experience withdrawal symptoms when the 'feel-good' chemicals are blocked."
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