UV Rays
8:20 am
Wed June 4, 2014

What Can a Tanning Bed Do to Your Brain?

A tanning booth stimulates "reward centers" in the brain, similar to exercise or drug use.

The Food and Drug Administration will now require tanning beds carry a warning label saying they shouldn't be used by persons under the age of 18. Tanning beds emit UV radiation that may cause skin cancer. But the beds may also cause changes to the brain.

It's a line you hear over and over from tanning bed opponents: users can get hooked.

"There are people who actually get addicted to tanning," said Jane Grant Kels, professor and chairman of dermatology at the UConn Health Center. "There are endorphins that are released when you are going to these tanning booths. That's been pretty clearly shown. I think it's an addicting behavior." She said tanning booths stimulate "reward centers" in the brain in a way that's similar to the buzz someone gets after exercising or using a drug. 

There's science to back this claim up. A 2011 study published in the journal Addiction Biology used sham UV light bulbs alongside real ones. Scientists ran scans and found that the regions of the brain linked to reward experience were less active in tanners getting the fake UV treatments. A different 2004 study reached similar conclusions, finding individuals were able to distinguish between regular UV-emitting beds and "sham" UV treatments.

Leah Ferrucci, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, cited a smaller study on tanning addiction out of Wake Forest in 2006. "Individuals were given a drug that's known to block endorphins," she said. "When that was given to people who were very frequent tanners, that drug actually induced withdrawal symptoms so they had symptoms of nausea or jitteriness and those were seen only in frequent tanners." 

Their conclusion: frequent tanners may get addicted to UV rays.

Ferrucci said the new FDA regulations are an important step toward educating the public about the dangers of tanning beds. And she is hopeful it will especially discourage minors from tanning.

In 2013 Connecticut passed a law making it illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to use a tanning booth

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