Tanning Improves Mood

Tanning Beds Offer Relaxation -- but Also Skin Cancer Risks

From the WebMD Archives

July 7, 2004 -- The promise of darker skin lures people to tanning beds. But the relaxing effects of ultraviolet (UV) light keep them coming back, a new study shows.

This newest study examines the complex reasons why people keep returning to tanning beds, despite the skin cancer dangers. Is it just for the darker skin? Or is something else happening? Recent research shows that UV exposure puts tanners in a better mood.

"We believe that ultraviolet light has an effect on mood that tanners value," says researcher Steven Feldman, MD, PhD, a dermatologist with Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. His study appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"This may be creating a reinforcing effect that influences tanning behavior," he explains.

Feldman's six-week study involved 14 college students who regularly used tanning beds. They had tanning sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays -- dividing their time between two identical-looking tanning beds -- one with a UV light and the other without. On Fridays, they could choose which tanning bed they wanted to use.

Before and after each tanning session, researchers asked the students to rate their mood.

When given a choice, 92% of the volunteers chose the UV tanning bed exclusively. The strongest reason for tanning was "relaxation" followed by "prepare for special event," reports Feldman.

"Increasing people's knowledge of the skin cancer risk associated with UV light exposure does not by itself reduce [tanning]," he notes. "UV light itself has a reinforcing effect that is valued by tanners and contributes to tanning behavior."

UV light may trigger mood-improving endorphins in the skin, he explains.

SOURCE: Feldman, S. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, July 2004.