What is UV addiction and why should you cut back on suntanning?


We all know that too much UV exposure can cause skin cancer, make us age faster and burn our skin, but did you know that you can also get addicted to it? And I don’t mean addicting like your Netflix binge-watching, because this time the consequences are a lot more serious than just becoming a couch potato. To get a little more information, we spoke to Dr. David Fisher, MD and Director of the Melanoma Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, about how UV rays can be addictive and how you can protect yourself from this sun-seeking behaviour.

“UV triggers the skin to produce beta-endorphin, which is responsible for opiate-related effects that include altered pain thresholds, dependency, and withdrawal propensity,” says Dr. Fisher. What this means is that just like how the natural melanin in your skin activates when it’s in the sun (which is how your body tans), beta-endorphins also activate and induce a pleasing effect to the brain, making you want more sun.

How Can You Tell If You're Addicted to Sun?

Here are some ways to know if you’re addicted:

  • You don’t want to hang around in cool, conditioned areas.
  • You reject the shade, preferring to lounge wherever the sun hits.
  • You just want to tan all the time.

While Dr. Fisher notes that there is no real cure or confirmed way to curb UV addiction, he does suggest that “it would seem best to avoid UV addiction in the first place, by increasing awareness that it triggers a real addictive pathway.”

But just because you want to go south for the winter or spend more time outside in the summer, doesn’t mean you’re addicted to UV. Instead, just be sure to protect yourself when you do go out.

“We recommend using at least SPF 30 with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) coverage, repeated applications such as after swimming, wearing UV protective clothing including wide-rimmed hats to protect ears, avoiding peak UV-intensity daylight hours and maximizing your use of shade,” says Dr. Fisher.

Are There Other Factors That Affect How Prone You Are to UV Addiction?

Apparently, not really. “There is no evidence to my knowledge that temperature (independent of UV) triggers this effect. Of course, warmer climates do typically coincide with stronger UV exposure,” says Dr. Fisher.

There’s also no solid connection to whether age or sex affects how quickly addiction might settle in, though there “is some evidence from human epidemiologic studies that indoor tanning propensity may be higher among females than males,” according to Dr. Fisher. Maybe it’s just because we love a nice, even tan.

There’s a lot that still needs to be researched, but in the end, being educated about the effects of the sun and UV exposure is probably the best way to avoid the addiction. Just like knowing when to switch off Netflix at night to get your recommended amount of beauty sleep, knowing when to reapply your sunscreen and head inside for the day is important too. Your skin will thank you.