Are tanning bed addicts like junkies?

A team of scientists has concluded that individuals who use frequently use tanning beds might be acting on an addictive neurological reward-and-reinforcement trigger.

That’s right – researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center believe those who “must” tan all the time share certain similarities with addicts. Indeed, brain functions and corresponding blood flow tracked by UT Southwestern scientists mirrors what is observed in people addicted to drugs and booze.

This might explain why some individuals keep on using tanning beds even though it comes with an increased risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“Using tanning beds has rewarding effects in the brain so people may feel compelled to persist in the behavior even though it’s bad for them,” said Dr. Bryon Adinoff, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study available online and in a future print edition of Addiction Biology.

“The implication is, ‘If it’s rewarding, then could it also be addictive?’ It’s an important question in the field.”


There are about 120,000 new cases of melanoma that are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


People younger than 30 who go tanning 10 times a year are eight times more likely to develop malignant melanoma. Public knowledge of the dangers of tanning beds has grown, but so has the regular use of tanning beds. That doesn’t have anything to do with pop culture does it?

In the above-mentioned study, the subjects utilized tanning beds on two different occasions: once when they were exposed to ultraviolet radiation and another when special filters blocked exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

The participants had no idea which session they received – the real or the filtered ultraviolet exposure. At each session, the subjects were asked before and after the treatment how much they felt like tanning. 

They were also given a compound that let scientists to monitor brain blood flow while they were getting their tan on.


The research paper from the study will be available online via a pay wall and in a future print edition of Addiction Biology