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UV rays stimulate a particular part in the brain associated with the reward system. The changes that occur in the brain are similar to that found in the brain of drug addicts. Like drugs, UV rays also have the potential to become addictive.

UV Rays Released from Tanning Beds can result in Addiction

Researchers have often wondered why people continue to use tanning beds despite being warned against its ill effects. The people using tanning beds keep returning for more, sometimes as frequently as three times in a week. Now, we know the reason behind it.


Experts say that the UV rays released from the tanning beds can result in addiction. They have found that the UV rays stimulate a particular part in the brain associated with the reward system. The changes that occur in the brain are similar to that found in the brain of drug addicts. Like drugs, UV rays also have the potential to become addictive.

The researchers, under the leadership of Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, engaged a small group of tanners who visited tanning saloons at least three times a week and injected a radioisotope in them to study the changes in their brain activity following tanning.

The tanners were subjected to normal tanning sessions occasionally. On other instances, they were subjected to tanning after a special filter blocked the UV rays, without their knowledge. On both occasions, their brain activity was mapped after injecting them with a special radioisotope. When the tanners were subjected to UV rays, the researchers were amazed to see unusual activity in the dorsal striatum, the left anterior insula and part of the orbitofrontal cortex- parts of brain which are implicated in addiction. When the UV rays were blocked, these areas of the brain remained comparatively quiet.

Long Time Tanners Find it Difficult to Stop Despite Being Aware of the Fact the UV Rays Exposure can Lead to Skin Cancer

During their experiment, the researchers found that the tanners were able to sense when the UV rays were blocked. They seemed contended after a tanning session where UV rays were present. But, they didn’t find the tanning session as rewarding on blocking the rays and their desire to tan remained as strong as before the session. This proves the fact that the UV rays cause certain changes in the brain which are addictive. The findings of the research appear in the upcoming issue of the journal “Addiction Biology.”

 Researchers found that once hooked to it, tanners keep coming back for more. Long time tanners find it difficult to stop despite being aware of the fact that UV rays exposure can lead to development of skin cancer. It has been experienced that the tanners understand the potential damage of UV rays exposure. They seem to agree with the dermatologist about the cancerous properties of UV rays. But as soon as the counseling session is over, they are back to the tanning beds.

Estimates reveal that around 30 million Americans use tanning beds annually. On an average, more than a million visit a tanning booth every day. This is despite the fact that they are regularly warned about the risk of skin cancer, premature aging and wrinkles. Now we know that ignoring these warnings repeatedly may be because of a problem of addiction.

  • “How Tanning Changes the Brain’, by Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times, published on Aug 12, 2011, accessed on Aug 17, 2011.
  • Photo courtesy of evilerin on Flicrk: www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3096163337