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The message that tanning beds contribute to the risk of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, appears in print constantly. So, why do people continue to use tanning beds despite knowing that they are dangerous to their health?
Researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas decided to investigate what might motivate tanning bed users to continue despite the universal knowledge that tanning beds are a cancer risk. They found that the brains of subjects tested showed a reward of tanning behavior much the same way an addiction to drugs or alcohol stimulates reward centers in the brain. The results of the research were published in journal Addiction Biology.
This small study tested seven participants who had responded to notices at two tanning salons as users of tanning beds at least three times and week and who felt that maintaining a tan was important to them. The group consisted of four women and three men with the mean age of 31.
Each study participant attended two tanning sessions. In one session they were exposed to UV radiation light and in the other, filters were used to block any UV radiation so they did not receive any. All the participants were asked to rate their desire to tan before their session and after each session. They were also asked to rate which session they preferred.
The researchers observed increased activity in the parts of the brain that are thought to be involved in addictive behavior. These areas showed increased blood flow after exposure to real UV radiation but did not during the sham sessions. The measurements were made using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).
Tanners, when questioned, felt less of a desire to tan after a real session but after a sham session, their desire to tan remained just as high as before the tanning session.
Dr. Adinoff , an author of the study, reported to the New York Times that the research was inspired by a colleague, based on her experiences with dermatology patients.
“She approached me because of her concern about young adults who were coming to see her with these beautiful bronze tans,” he said.