April 24, 2006

Tanning and mood

The BBC reports:

Sunbathing may be a physical addiction, research in the United States suggests.

Scientists believe exposure to ultraviolet rays may stimulate the release of chemicals in the blood which produce a natural high. The team from Wake Forest University in North Carolina say this may explain why some people are prepared to ignore the cancer risk of too much sun. The research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Professor Steven Feldman The Wake Forest team analysed 14 people, aged between 16 and 34, who typically used tanning beds two times a week. Each volunteer spent 15 minutes lying on a sunbed which exposed them to UV rays and then on another - again for 15 minutes - which released no rays. The volunteers were not told which beds released UV.

The subjects were asked if they would like to return days later and use a sunbed of their own choosing. Twelve returned and 95% [?] opted for the bed which radiated UV light. They said it made them feel good and helped them relax. The researchers believe that tanning may release endorphins into the bloodstream.

A reader writes:

I've always just assumed (probably based on something I heard a million years ago) that sunbathing makes whites feel good because their bodies crave sunlight to generate vitamin D (there's a Russian family near me, when the sun comes out after a patch of dreary weather, the mother is religious about getting out and getting some sun...).

This might be sex-linked. I've never really understood white girls attraction to sunbathing (I've know a number who were near religious about it). It cant just be the opportunity to lie around with most of their clothes off; they'll do it with or without public exposure.

My guess is that blondish people find that tanning does the most for their mood. Red-headed people don't tan much and others are already tan. But has any research been done on this?

A reader writes:

The research that I've seen on this topic implicates not tanning as the mood enhancer, but sunlight to the retina. This causes a stimulation of melatonin production, presumably among other things. It's been found that even the blind respond to light exposure this way. Artificial solar light panels are now widely available as treatment for so-called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, the form of depression caused by lack of light during the winter months. I've no idea whether the amount of exposure to solar radiation is cumulative; if it were, all the tanners would be manic, I suppose. But it seems possible that sunbathing provides such an intense amount of solar exposure to the retina that moods are improved.

Does that mean that you get less of a boost from the sunshine if you wear sunglasses?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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