“They found that when these individuals are exposed to UVR, their brain cells release a molecule, dopamine, associated with rewards, pleasure and arousal”
A group of researchers in Texas questioned what happens in the brain of individuals that are addicted to indoor tanning. “They found that when these individuals are exposed to UVR, their brain cells release a molecule, dopamine, associated with rewards, pleasure and arousal”, says Dr. Netchiporouk an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at McGill University. Dopamine is also found increased in people with alcohol dependence, gambling and other substances addiction. The more this molecule increased, the more the tanners are dependent on tanning.
"When the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, from either sunlight or indoors tanning devices, as our DNA is damaged by UV rays, it triggers the skin cells release both melanin (i.e., pigment) and another molecule called β-endorphin which is related to pleasure, good mood and resistance to pain. “It is like an endogenous morphine. Repetitive exposition to UV light can lead to physical dependence" explains Dr. Netchiporouk.
According to Dr. Litvinov, a Director in Dermatology Research at McGill University, studies on mice are key to understand how this molecule mediates tanning addiction. A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School led by Dr. Fisher investigated what happens to mice that receive UV light compared to those who do not. "Not only did they find high level of β-endorphin in exposed mice, but when this molecule was artificially blocked, the mice showed signs of withdrawal. Moreover, the fact that these findings were not present in mice that did not receive sun rays, confirms that UV light triggers behavioral changes in these animals like in humans”, says Dr. Litvinov. “The researchers used a reliable trick looking at tail elevation in mice when they get morphine. Sun exposure and drugs like morphine trigger the same tail elevation response in mice. These studies really explain that sun can be addictive”, Dr. Litvinov.