Addicted to Tanning.?

August 25, 2007 at 4:21 pm (addicted, frequently, high rist, tanning)

Do you ever feel like you’re positively craving a tan – whatever the risks? A mounting body of evidence suggests that it’s not just in your head, and that the desire to bask in the sun goes deeper than wanting a golden glow.

In recent years, several studies have turned to the science of addiction to determine why so many people ignore the known risks of excessive sun exposure.

In a study released in 2005, a team of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, modified the criteria that doctors use to assess substance-abuse disorders. They found that 53 percent of 145 beach-goers studied demonstrated the signs of dependence… on tanning.

Naturally, the next step is to determine precisely what’s behind this biological response. Recent studies have found that the skin can produce endorphins, which led researchers to theorize that UV exposure stimulates endorphin-production to create a sense of well-being in tanners.

While some research has failed to confirm this speculation, a 2006 study from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine further corroborated the endorphin theory: Researchers found that half of the small group of frequent tanners studied experienced physiological symptoms of withdrawal when given an opioid-blocking drug (endorphins are in the opioid family). Infrequent tanners given the same drug were unaffected.

Other recent studies have postulated that skin’s physiological response to tanning has an evolutionary explanation: Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors may have developed this response to encourage adequate sun exposure, and therefore adequate levels of vitamin D.

Today, though, we have much wider access to vitamin D through diet and supplements (which are the best bet for anyone at high risk for skin cancer); furthermore, we know that a mere 20 minutes of UV exposure can generate requisite vitamin-D levels.

Clearly, more studies are required to get to the root of tanning addiction, but even early research offers important new insights to dermatologists who’ve long struggled to get through to devoted, high-risk tanners.

And if you find yourself frequently tanning – outdoors or in a tanning booth – please remember that things that feel good aren’t always good for you. This addiction, like many others, can seriously damage your health.

Wishing you great skin!

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