Are We All Addicted to Tanning?

by Karen Schwartz
Originally Published: 

The importance of sunblock is no secret these days—the message is on repeat in magazines, in doctors’ offices and on playgrounds around the country—so why have the rates of skin cancer been on the rise for 30 years?

Writer Jenna Rosenstein explores that question in her Allure magazine article “The Scary Causes Behind the Rise in Skin-Cancer Rates.”

Rosenstein grew up in South Florida and confesses to being a “shade-seeking vampire.” She attributes her sun-phobia to her mother’s early bout with skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the country. “I wore her diagnosis like a permanent wide-brimmed hat throughout my childhood,” Rosenstein writes, “knowing that my risk of developing one as well was significant.”

She knew how important sun protection was, but why, she wonders, was it so hard to get her equally aware friends to keep from hitting the beach sans sunscreen or baking indoors in tanning beds?

The answer may lie in everyone’s favorite neurotransmitters: Yes, UV exposure releases endorphins.

“When someone regularly tans,” Rosenstein writes, “they’re hooked on that warm, happy feeling.”

According to Yale School of Medicine scientist Brenda Cartmel, who authored a study that uncovered a genetic link to tanning addiction, when someone is tanning, there are changes in the brain in the same area associated with addictive behaviors.

Like the writer, I too hide from the sun—largely because my pale skin burns at the exposure. While I prefer the term “shade worshipper,” I have been know to hit the sand in a white men’s shirt, sarong and big floppy hat. I’ve long felt like a freak at the beach—the paranoid odd woman out—and wondered why no one else seemed to mind getting more than “a little sun.” Maybe they’ve all been getting a rush while I was getting a sunburn.

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