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Sun worshipers beware: A new study has revealed that sunlight -- and tanning -- may actually be addictive.

New study suggests tanning addictions are real

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, June 20, 2014, 3:08 PM - In 2000, writer David Sedaris dubbed the term 'tanorexic' when referring to his perpetually-bronzed sister. The term has since been adopted by the English lexicon, defined by Oxford Dictionary as "an obsessive desire to acquire and maintain a suntan, by natural or artificial methods".

Now, a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General hospital has confirmed that tanorexia may, in fact, be a real thing.

The team says that the UV radiation that darkens the skin may also trigger the release of feel-good endorphins, leaving some people wanting more.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Cases of skin cancer in Canada on the rise

Scientists set out to understand why some people continue to use tanning beds, despite their well-documented link to skin cancer.  Every day for six weeks, a group of mice with shaved backs were exposed to UV light equivalent to about 30 minutes of Florida sun -- enough to encourage tanning but not enough to cause a burn.

Within a week, researchers recorded a "significantly" higher endorphin level in the mice -- and that continued to climb throughout the duration of the study.

As the study progressed the mice became less responsive to temperature changes, less sensitive and, in some cases, more pain resistant.

When sunlight exposure stopped, researchers documented typical withdrawal symptoms like trembling and teeth chattering in the mice.

The findings are likely to have some health care practitioners concerned -- especially here in Canada, where skin cancer appears to be on the rise.

Sunlight exposure is important because it helps the human body produce vitamin D, which promotes strong bones and teeth.

SEE ALSO: Company claims to have developed drinkable sunscreen

But, as Weather Network meteorologist Gina Ressler points out, spending long hours in the sun has significant health risks.

"The number one risk factor for developing skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation," she says, "and it’s entirely preventable."

Experts recommend applying a broad spectrum sunscreen when heading outdoors. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.

Try to limit sun exposure during peak times of the day and wear a hat and light, protective clothing when possible.

Last but not least, you can visit The Weather Network's UV index updates to find out how strong the sun is in your area.

The full study on tanning addiction can be found in the journal Cell.

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