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Addicted to Bronze: Is Tanning a Form of Substance Abuse?

What's the Latest?

The rate of skin cancer is rising faster than any kind of cancer. At an increase of three percent per year, the number one cause is overexposure to the sun, a situation which is easily prevented when people refrain from tanning. But vanity may not be the only thing driving people to tan. A new study indicates that tanning works on the body much like addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine. In an experiment, tanning "produced more feel-good hormones called beta-endorphins, which bind to opioid receptors – the same receptors that respond to heroin and related drugs."

What's the Big Idea?

Researchers warn that confusing addiction with the presence of certain chemical reactions in the body risks trivializing addiction, a diagnosis reserved for extreme cases of substance abuse. Carlton Erickson, who works on addiction at the University of Texas at Austin, said: "Even if an individual truly has no control over their compulsive behaviour – even if they experience highs and lows, tolerance and withdrawal – that doesn't necessarily make someone an addict." More regulation of the tanning industry could keep an eye on companies who offer package discounts to the young, limiting people's exposure to harmful UV rays. 

Read more at New Scientist

Photo credit: Yuriy Zhuravov/Shutterstock

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