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Are people addicted to tanning? What brain study says

Spray tans are pretty safe, but women continue to use tanning beds. And there's clear evidence linking indoor tanning to skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest kind. Use of tanning beds before age 30 increases the risk for melanoma by a whopping 75 percent. Some tanning salons insist that indoor tanning is safer than outdoor tanning. Don't believe it. Evidence suggests that tanning beds emit UV radiation at levels far exceeding those in sunlight.
istockphoto
istockphoto

(CBS) People who say they're addicted to tanning may be onto something. New research suggests the brains of frequent tanners act a lot like those of alcoholics and drug addicts.

What's next, tanning rehab?

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"Using tanning beds has rewarding effects in the brain so people may feel compelled to persist in the behavior even though it's bad for them," study author Dr. Bryon Adinoff, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said in a written statement. "The implication is, 'If it's rewarding, then could it also be addictive?'"

The researchers behind the study - published in Addiction Biology - wanted to know if addiction explained why tanning remained popular, despite an increase in awareness of the dangers of tanning.

Researchers measured tanner's brain activity on two separate occasions - once with ultraviolet radiation, and once using UV-blocking filters. Participants didn't know whether they were getting real UV radiation. The researchers saw that real UV rays changed tanners' brain activity and blood flow in ways that mimicked what is seen in addicts.

"I think that anything that gives us pleasure and stimulates the limbic system of the brain has the potential to be addictive in the sense that we do it to excess and with harmful consequences," Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and author of "An Anatomy of Addiction," who was not involved in the study, told CBS News in an email.

Tanning comes with many health risks. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, people under 30 who use a tanning bed 10 times a year have eight times the risk for malignant melanoma.

PICTURES: Is it skin cancer? 38 photos that could save your life

Each year, melanoma strikes about 70,000 people and kills 9,000. More than 1 million Americans are diagnosed non-melanoma skin cancer each year.

The National Cancer Institute has more on melanoma and other skin cancers.