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Why sunbathing feels so good

Soaking up the sun? A new study explains why we just can’t get enough of catching rays.

Wonder why you just can’t get enough, even though you are aware it can do a number on your skin? According to a new study in Cell Press, the more sun you get, the more endorphins your body releases. This is why it feels so good to sit in the sun… and why we can’t seem to stop.

Exposure to ultraviolet light triggers the production of endorphins, which relieve pain by triggering opioid receptors via the same pathways as heroin and other “feel good” drugs.

“This information might serve as a valuable means of educating people to curb excessive sun exposure in order to limit skin cancer risk as well as accelerated skin aging that occurs with repeated sun exposure,” said David Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study.

“Our findings suggest that the decision to protect our skin or the skin of our children may require more of a conscious effort rather than a passive preference,” he added.

During the study, the researchers exposed shaved mice to UV light for six weeks — endorphins in the bloodstream went up in just one week. After six weeks, using an opioid-blocking drug caused withdrawal symptoms, including shaking, tremors and teeth chattering. Those mice steered clear of locations where they had been given the drug, which indicates that chronic UV exposure produces physical dependence and behavior similar to someone with an addiction.

“It’s surprising that we’re genetically programmed to become addicted to something as dangerous as UV radiation, which is probably the most common carcinogen in the world,” Fisher said, adding that it’s probably due to the UV light synthesizing into vitamin D.

Of course, there are other ways to get your vitamin D. And as for endorphins, you don’t need to lay out all day to take those in — sex and laughter are both good ways to get your fix of them. Just sayin’.

Speaking of staying protected, a new study in Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research finds that putting sunscreen on babies and children can help to prevent melanoma in them when they are adults. By the age of 20, people with five or more blistering sunburns may increase their risk for developing melanoma by 80 percent, according to another study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Young people who have had five severe sunburn incidents between the ages of 15 and 20 were at an increased risk for having all types of skin cancers.

Enjoy the sun this summer; just make sure you’re well equipped with plenty of broad-spectrum sunscreen. Neutrogena, Coppertone, Banana Boat… whatever you’re rockin’, make sure to re-apply it as needed. And don’t neglect a much-needed day indoors, either — even sun addicts need a break, too.

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