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The Unexpected Dangers of Tanning Beds

You may still live in fear of excessive stints in a tanning bed due to memories of the oft-repeated urban legend about the girl who cooked her internal organs as a result of too much tanning bed usage. However, in case you haven’t heard, that didn’t really happen. On the other hand, the obvious, as well as the most widely reported, real danger associated with tanning beds is the cancer-causing effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation produced by this artificial tanning process. Indeed, it is now very well established that tanning beds, in addition to other sources of UV radiation, rank among the highest risk sources for melanoma and squamous cell cancer. Accordingly, this article will avoid that issue and focus on something that is less widely known, but nonetheless poses a significant danger to regular users of tanning beds.

If you were to read a headline directing you to a story purportedly about tanning beds, but featuring the words ‘cutaneous endorphins’, would you be confused? Would you think the story was somehow about an adorable swimming mammal (think – Flipper) that has been placed on the endangered species list? Or maybe a promotion for an alternative rock band’s latest concert? Your confusion would certainly be understandable, since the term ‘cutaneous’ is unfamiliar to most people. Although, if memory serves, endorphins have something to do with how a hiker is able to cut off his own arm (an arm that was hopelessly pinned under a boulder) with an old beat-up pocket knife and proceed down a mountain to find help. Or, they allow a long distance runner to keep running and running when he really just wants to stop running and sit down and cry.

In reality, according to a study prepared for the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Alabama, endorphins are neurotransmitters found in the brain that have pain-relieving properties. In fact, these properties are surprisingly similar to the popular drugs morphine and codeine. So – you are asking yourself now, with a puzzled (or possibly disturbed) look on your face – what does any of this have to do with tanning beds? Well, since you asked, it has been discovered that cutaneous (actually meaning: relating to the skin) endorphins are produced at a very high rate during the process of UV exposure from tanning beds. That’s right – tanning beds are, in truth, inanimate drug pushers. Of course, tanning salons are typically located in much better neighborhoods than those frequented by the stereotypical meth or crack dealer. And, it must be admitted, employees of the former are much better looking than the latter.

The point being made here is, there is an underlying reason why so many of the ‘beautiful people’ feel the need to constantly tan – and freak out if they are unable to get their tanning ‘fix’. They are getting high! They’re using! They have a monkey on their back – along with those occasional tan lines. That’s right; tanning bed users often develop an excessive psychological dependence on their drug of choice: the UV rays emitted by commercial tanning beds. And, just like other drug users, tanning bed junkies tend to be excessively thin and smoke cigarettes more often than the general population. That’s certainly not healthy is it? Indeed, the symptoms of tanning bed addiction mimic those of people with alcohol or drug addictions (Soon, there may even be local chapters of TBA – Tanning Bedders Anonymous – sharing meeting facilities with AA and NA groups). Forget the fact that they are probably broiling themselves into an unnecessary case of melanoma or carcinoma, they need to get into rehab – stat! Nevertheless, unlike the unattractive vision we have of the meth addict or crack head, there is one positive benefit that accompanies this dangerous addiction to tanning beds. When these finally decide that they need to check into rehab, at least they’ll have a great tan!

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