Sunbeds and UV exposure: Can they elevate mood?


I ran across a 2002 paper that begins, “People tend to feel better after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.” The authors are seven German scientists from Ruhr-University.

Gambichler T, Bader A, Vojvodic M, Bechara FG, Sauermann K, Altmeyer P, Hoffmann K. Impact of UVA exposure on psychological parameters and circulating serotonin and melatonin. BMC Dermatol. 2002 Apr 12;2:6.

The team of researchers measured different aspects of psychological well being in 53 volunteers before and after sunbed use. At baseline, all volunteers completed psychological questionnaires. Forty-two of the volunteers were assigned to receive twice-weekly full body UVA irradiation for 3 weeks. The other 11 received no phototherapy. At the end of the trial, all participants completed psychological questionnaires.

They found that sunbed exposed volunteers felt significantly more balanced, less nervous, more strengthened, and more satisfied with their appearance after sunbed use. By contrast, the controls did not show significant changes of psychological parameters. However, serum serotonin and melatonin were unchanged.

Another study also found a more relaxed and less tense mood after UV exposure in sunbeds compared with non-UV exposure.

Feldman SR, Liguori A, Kucenic M, Rapp SR, Fleischer AB Jr, Lang W, Kaur M. Ultraviolet exposure is a reinforcing stimulus in frequent indoor tanners. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Jul;51(1):45-51.

So why do sunbeds make you feel better?

One thought is that it’s due to endorphin production. Skin cells produce morphine like substances (endorphins) upon exposure to UV radiation.

Heckman CJ, Egleston BL, Wilson DB, Ingersoll KS. A preliminary investigation of the predictors of tanning dependence. Am J Health Behav. 2008;32:451–64. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.32.5.1.

At least one study found blood levels of endorphins are higher after sunbed use, although not all studies show this.

Levins PC, Carr DB, Fisher JE, Momtaz K, Parrish JA. Plasma beta-endorphin and beta-lipoprotein response to ultraviolet radiation. Lancet. 1983 Jul 16;2(8342):166.

In keeping with the endorphin theory, patients with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia have reported a greater short-term decrease in pain and improved mood after exposure to sunbeds compared to non-users.

Taylor SL, Kaur M, LoSicco K, Willard J, Camacho F, O’Rourke KS, Feldman SR. Pilot study of the effect of ultraviolet light on pain and mood in fibromyalgia syndrome. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jan;15(1):15-23.

I like to feel better. That’s why I seek UV exposure year-round. In the summer, sun exposure is the most natural and available option. In the winter, I sometimes go to suntan parlors, and I sometimes use in home devices, too. If you use sun-tanning parlors, ask for the older, low pressure, standard sunbeds. They pretty well replicate sunlight.

See the original blog post here.

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