Tanning activates regions of brain tied to addiction

Tanning activates regions of brain tied to addiction

September 8th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in Life Entertainment

Erika Greet, an employee of the U-Tan tanning salon in Los Angeles, demonstrates the workings of an Ergoline Excellence tanning bed. It has been found that tanning activates regions of the brain tied to addiction.

Photo by McClatchey Tribune /Times Free Press.

A new study shines light on why more than a million Americans a day ignore skin-scorching warnings to hit tanning beds.

It's nothing shocking: Artificially bronzing your skin can become a habit, and habits are hard to break.

Researchers found that some parts of the brain activate the same way they do when stimulated by other substances linked to addiction. Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a University of Texas-based psychiatry professor and an author of the study, told The New York Times that UV light affects people much like drugs and alcohol.

"[The brain] responds in areas that are associated with reward," Adinoff told the newspaper.

That could explain why so much skin cancer awareness is simply that - awareness without follow-up. Nearly 30 million Americans use tanning beds every year, swelling the industry's popularity to a point it's never seen, according to skincancer.org.

Tina Blevins, owner of Tina's Tanning in Jasper, Tenn., agreed with the researchers when presented with their findings last week. Blevins allows her customers only one visit a day, but she said some "go somewhere else" for a second round of tanning minutes after they leave her facility.

"Two or three times a week is more than plenty," she said.

The researchers used unconventional methods in their study, asking people who enjoyed tanning at least three times a week to be injected with a radioisotope to monitor brain activity. They also used the classic placebo effect.

The researchers found that when UV light - the brightest light and most-likely to cause cancer - was shone down upon the study's participants, addiction-related brain areas (the dorsal striatum and orbitofrontal cortex among them) lit up. But when UV light was withheld - replaced with what researchers called "sham UV rays" - addictive areas of the brain were dormant.

Like other addictive substances, the people exposed to the sham rays could tell when they didn't get what they craved, according to the study.

"These findings suggest that [UV rays] may have centrally rewarding properties that encourage excessive tanning," the study reports.