Can Tanning Affect Your Brain: Understanding Your Tanning Addiction

Tanning Salon Regulars Beware: that lovely blue light darkening your skin to a perfect bronze complexion may be changing your brain in the process.

Scientist recently shed light on the effects of UV radiation on the brain. Their findings suspect that frequent exposure to UV light holds potential for addiction. “Tanning addiction” has recently been shown to be a condition with chilling consequences and millions of Americans may be at risk.

Melanoma—Why Risk it?

For years the public has understood the dangers they face by climbing into a tanning bed. But the looming facts connecting intense UV radiation with melanoma don’t seem to intimidate the morethan 30 million dedicated American “tanners.”

This unusual risky behavior demonstrated by America’s tanning community has spurred questions among medical professionals; and new research shows that several parts of the brain playing a role in typical drug or alcohol addiction are activated when tanners become exposed to UV rays.

“. . . the brain is in fact responding to UV light, and it responds in areas that are associated with reward,” says psychiatric professor Dr. Bryon Adinoff in an interview with the NY Times.

Tanning Addiction—For Real

In a 2005 study, 77 of 145 tested sunbathers showed significant signs of addiction… tanning addiction. The study based its findings off a variation of two tests typically used to help determine alcohol addiction. The questions were reworded to cater to its uniquely “tan” subjects.

Recently, a research team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center decided to take the tanning addiction theory to the next level. The team gathered together a small group of “tanners” and injected them with a radioisotope that could be carefully tracked to show the effects of tanning on brain activity.

Each person tested said that maintaining a tan was important to them and tanned at least three times a week.

But the study had a twist. The subjects were asked to use the tanning beds on two separate occasions.

  • The first test was accomplished using the typical “dose” of UV radiation.
  • During the second test, a special filter was placed over the bulbs—blocking the UV light.

Shortly after their tanning sessions, tanners were questioned. The results were fascinating.

When the subjects were placed under normal UV radiation, they seemed to have gotten their “fill” and expressed the usual satisfaction in their tanning experience. But when the UV radiation was filtered out, the subjects were unsatisfied with their bout on the tanning bed.

“They all liked the session where they got the real UV light,” said Dr. Adinoff to the Times. “There was some way people were able to tell when they were getting the real UV light and when they were not.”

And the brain images acquired through the test seemed to confirm the reaction of the tanners.

Brain activity observed under the UV radiation was intense in areas of the brain typically “rewarded” during a drug or alcohol high. And the brain activity under the special filter followed suit by showing significantly less activity in key areas associated with addiction.


Because medical research makes a strong connection between tanning and addiction, this condition needs to be taken seriously. Scoffing at something like tanning addiction can have dangerous repercussions such as

  •  Melanoma—The most lethal form of skin cancer
  •  Squamous cell carcinoma or Basal cell carcinoma.
  •  Premature aging
  •  Premature wrinkling

If you or someone you love struggles with tanning addiction, it may be time to consider treatment. Duffy’s rehab center, located in northern California, offers a number of recovery programs with you in mind. Call 707-200-6968 to contact a helpful representative.

Helpful Info on Tanning Addiction