Frequent trips to the beach could mean more than fun in the sun. New research shows that some people who regularly bask in the sun's rays qualify as tanning addicts.
"Most people know that UV light causes skin cancer and premature aging," says lead scientist Richard Wagner, a dermatologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "Like others with substance abuse disorders, people who seem addicted to the sun find it hard to stop tanning."
Researchers screened 145 people at a beach in Galveston, Texas, with two questionnaires adapted from those used to diagnose alcoholics and other addicts. The surveys included questions such as, "Do you try to cut down on time you spend in the sun, but still find yourself suntanning?" They found that 26% to 53% of those interviewed qualified as "UV light tanning dependent," depending on the questionnaire.
"It's like going into a bar and finding that 50% of the patrons are alcoholics," Wagner says.
He emphasizes that more research is needed to determine if tanning can be classified as an addiction and to figure out why the sun has such a strong pull. Wagner says that, similar to opiate drugs, UV light stimulates release of endorphins, a chemical that can produce a good feeling.