Serial sun worshippers may be driven by more than the desire for a tan. Seems those ultraviolet rays can be addicting.
After just one week of being exposed to what would be the equivalent of a fair-skinned person sitting in midday sun in Florida for 20 to 30 minutes each day, mice in a recent study had significantly higher levels of endorphins—or feel-good hormones—which remained elevated for the entire six-week exposure period.
The UV exposure led to “an opioid-mediated hedonic experience”—which is basically a high—and was followed by dependence. When given a medication to counter the effects, the mice went through withdrawal symptoms, like tremors, shaking and rearing.
UV exposure can be addictive for people too, warn the researchers, who say recreational tanning may engage the same pathways.
“This provides a potential explanation for the sun-seeking behavior that may underlie the relentless rise in most forms of skin cancer,” said study co-author Dr. David Fisher of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and Harvard Medical School, regarding the findings published this month in the journal Cell. “The decision to protect our skin may require more of a conscious effort rather than a passive preference,” he said.