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Sun Worshipper? Harvard Study Shows Tanning May be Addictive

By HERWriter Guide
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 sun worshipping and tanning may be addictive Auremar/PhotoSpin

Summer is in full swing and many of us are enjoying the warmth and sunshine this season brings. We are outdoors more and reaping the benefits of sunshine, from increased Vitamin D to better mental health.

But a new Harvard study has found that tanning in the sun may actually be addictive -- something we need to be aware of, especially with the rise of skin cancer.

Harvard researchers placed mice in the sun for 30 minutes every day for six weeks, shaving their backs for maximum exposure.

What they found was that along with a tan, the mice were producing endorphins, otherwise known as the happy or pleasure chemical. Endorphins relax the body, promote better mental health and make a person feel happier than they would without them.

The mice were then injected with substances to block this pleasurable feeling. And while the mice didn't actively seek the sun like an addict would, they did try to avoid going to the area where they received the injections, showing that they did not want to stop these feelings of pleasure that the endorphins gave.

This, researchers believe, is a sign of addictive behavior.

One of the researchers, Dr. David Fisher, thinks addiction to the sun is real. He told the BBC, "People who may have no intention of using any drugs may just think they're going out to enjoy a great day outdoors and may be becoming addicted and exposing themselves and their children to UV in a fashion which could elevate their risk of developing skin cancer.”

While this study certainly sows the seeds of potential addiction, some researchers continue to disagree until further conclusive evidence in shown.

According to Dr. David Belin, an addiction researcher at the University of Cambridge, real addiction to the sun (and tanning) would be evidenced by people losing their homes, jobs and other important aspects of life, the same as drug, alcohol or gambling addicts.

To counter his opinion -- knowing that too much sun exposure can and does lead to cancer still does not stop sun worshippers, showing a possible addiction despite a potential death sentence.

Bear in mind that a little exposure every day is just fine. We need the sun for Vitamin D and the sun has very positive effects on our emotional health. Without the sun, our planet would not exist. But the unfortunate truth is that the sun could be considered carcinogenic.

But it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the outdoors without overexposure to the sun.

When possible, limit direct sun exposure to about 20-30 minutes a day. Those who need to work in the sun, or who play sports in it, should use sunscreen as a matter of routine, and reapply every two hours.

Wearing a hat and sunglasses can protect the head, shoulders, chest and face from the sun, the very places where aging is first seen. Swimsuits and sports clothes are available with UV protection. Even in the shade (and winter), sunscreen is necessary.

Read and relax in the shade and drink tons of water. It offers protection from dehydration and is good for the skin. And don’t forget sunscreen for hands, lips and noses!

EmpowHER founder Michelle King Robson offers advice for summer skin care.

In her article “Don’t Look Old Before Your Time”, she advised shade and sunscreen. She also suggested cool clothes to stop overheating, and mixing up a skin-and-sun-friendly mask to hydrate and soften summer skin.

She said, “I make mine by mashing half a cucumber and adding one tablespoon of plain yogurt, then blending it until it’s smooth. Apply it to your face for 15 minutes then gently rinse it off. I love the feel and the smell of it. And if there’s any left over, it makes a delicious snack!”

She also advised scarves and hats -- good for blocking the sun and doubling as pretty summer wear!


BBC.com. Health. “Sunbathing ‘May Be Addictive’ Warning.” Web. Retrieved June 22nd, 2014.

EmpowHER.com. Wellness. “Don’t Look Old Before Your Time! Try These Tips for Ageless Summer Skin.” Web. Retrieved June 22nd, 2014.

Fell, Gillian et al. Skin β-Endorphin Mediates Addiction to UV Light. Cell. Volume 157, Issue 7, p1527–1534, 19 June 2014. Retrieved June 22nd, 2014.
Abstract: http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(14)00611-4

Reviewed June 23, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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