The Heroine of Tanning


It’s summer: the time for ice cream, spending the day in the beach, and therefore, sun bathing. But apparently this relaxing activity is not as simple as you may think.

When people are exposed to ultra violet radiation, like that coming from the sun, it causes melanocyte cells in the skin to produce melanin, a pigment which absorbs radiation to protect the skin. So when people sun bathe, they produce more melanin which darkens their skin. It also increases Vitamin D production, but can lead to skin cancer and faster ageing skin.

512px-Alpha-neoendorphin.svg

An endorphin, a substance which gives pleasure, and can be released due to exercise, food and now sunlight!

Up until know, doctors had tried to raise awareness of the dangers of this practice, but it seems things are getting worse. A new study published in ‘Cell’ suggests that constant and prolonged exposure to UV light can be addictive. This theory had already been proposed, with some known cases, but it has now been explained and backed up with an experiment on mice. These were shaved to expose their skin and were then subjected to UV light exposure for a controlled period of time a day, similar to the amount a human would get when sun bathing on the beach. After weeks of this practice, it turned out the mice had produced more beta-endorphin, a substance similar to morphine and heroine, which results in a positive feeling when detected by the sensors in the brain. The pleasant nature of this is what makes the mice crave it more, causing an addictive response, where the mice seek out the stimulus that is causing the endorphins to be released.

It was also found out that the mice showed tolerance to the UV radiation, just as an addicted person does to a drug after using it for a while. Scientists found that over time, they needed to increase the amount of UV light they shone for the mice to produce as much endorphins as before.

It is definitely an interesting study, which adds up to the dangers of being exposed to too much sunlight. That’s why we should be careful with the light exposure we go through everyday, taking care of using sunscreens and trying to reduce as much as possible the time we spend directly under the sun.

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