Sun Addiction (UV Light Substance Related Disorder)

Have you ever wondered if you’re tanning too much? Ever felt like you should cut down on tanning? Ever felt annoyed when other people criticize you for tanning? Ever felt guilty about tanning? Ever felt like you needed to tan first thing in the morning? If you answered yes to any of those questions you may have a sun addiction.

CAGE Questionnaire

Addiction is a word with a lot of negative connotations, but studies have found that the strong desire to tan that some people feel can be likened to an addiction. The CAGE questionnaire was originally developed to screen for alcohol addiction, but it can be applied to all substance abuse disorders.


Sun Addiction and UV Light Substance Related Disorder

Sun addiction, or as we medical professionals call it UV Light Substance Related Disorder, is a newly described condition that may be more common than you think. It causes both a psychological and physical dependence. Sun exposure creates endorphins (endogenous opioids) in the skin, which may reinforce the desire to tan. Frequent tanners can exhibit withdrawal symptoms when they try to reduce or quit tanning. They can also develop tolerance to UV light where they need more and more to feel the same pleasurable effects.

Why People Like To Tan

I get it. Being outside in the sun feels good. It’s fun and all your friends are doing it too. Tanning is relaxing. You sit outside and soak in the rays for a little while. You come home tired and happy. However, for some people it’s never enough time spent in the sun. Even though frequent tanners are more aware of the negative effects of sun exposure (hello skin cancers and melanoma) they continue to seek out the sun. They ignore the negative consequences associated with tanning much like an addict of any substance ignores all the negative aspects of using their substance of choice. They find it difficult to stop tanning when they try to quit.

Indoor Tanning and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Indoor tanning has been linked to body dysmorphic disorder in cases where the sufferer is overwhelmingly preoccupied with having tan skin or not appearing too pale. One study found that 25% of participants used indoor tanning due to their body dysmorphic disorder.

Research on UV Light Dependence

To prove that a preference for UV light does exist, even if we’re not consciously aware of it, one study subjected participants to either light that contained UV or light that didn’t. The frequent tanners in the study exhibited an overwhelming preference for the UV light containing beds (95% of frequent tanners).

Like other addictive behaviors, a predisposition for tanning dependence may come from down at the genetic level. A study of 292 people found that frequent tanners were more likely to have a different expression of the patched domain containing 2 gene. More research is definitely needed on the subject, but all the preliminary results show that UV light can cause dependence.

How can we prevent sun addiction?

Many states restrict indoor tanning for those under the age of 18. High risk behaviors that are common among adolescents, such as smoking, drinking, eating disorders, and drug use, are associated with tanning. It has been found that the earlier a person starts engaging in those high risk behaviors the harder it is for them to quit. By supporting restrictions on indoor tanning, you can help people who would have otherwise been exposed to indoor tanning earlier on. Early education programs for children are also key. Sun addiction is not a well-known phenomenon, and it’s up to people like you and me to get the word out.

Have you ever felt like you might be struggling with sun addiction? How did you try to stop or cut back? Leave your story in the comments below!


  1. Nolan, Bridgit V., et al. “Tanning as an addictive behavior: a literature review.”Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine 25.1 (2009): 12-19.
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Tanning Addiction.

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