Why Does the Tanning Bed Make You Happy?

tanning on sobe image by Wimbledon from Fotolia.com

Despite the correlation between ultraviolet (UV) light exposure and increased skin cancer risk, tanning bed use to deepen skin color continues. Recent research suggests the practice affects more than just the skin. UV light exposure that occurs during tanning also elevates mood and may be addictive.

Tanning and Mood

Improved self-image is not the sole mood-elevating factor associated with tanning bed use. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin exposed to UV light produces and releases beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is an opium-like chemical best known for providing the sense of well-being, or “runners high," that accompanies vigorous exercise.

Vitamin D

According to an editorial published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression. UV light exposure from the sun or tanning beds stimulates the skin to produce vitamin D. The editorial also reports "exposure of skin to ultraviolet light, which converts cutaneous 7-dehydocholesterol to vitamin D3, is the most important source of vitamin D for most people".

Tanning Addiction

An editorial published in Expert Reviews supports the theory of a possible link between frequent tanning and UV light addiction. It references a study in which tanners were given naltrexone, an opioid-blocking substance, before UV radiation exposure. Fifty percent of frequent tanners experienced symptoms of withdrawal including nausea and jitters. Infrequent tanners experienced no withdrawal symptoms.