Can Tanning Beds Banish Winter Blues?

An estimated 15 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of them will turn to a tanning salon to see if a shot of artificial sun can help banish their blues. If you're tempted to join them, think again.

Winter depression can range from mild blues to full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, trouble concentrating, energy slumps, an increase in appetite, a decrease in energy, and an increased desire to be alone. The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is not known, but theories agree that light exposure is the solution. One theory suggests that not getting enough sunlight slows down your biological clock and lowers your mood. Another proposes that sufferers have an imbalance in neurotransmitters, which can only be corrected by light exposure.

Tanning salons often seize this marketing opportunity to attract SAD sufferers to enjoy their manufactured sunlight. The problem is that tanning beds serve up unhealthy doses of UV rays with the light. Recent studies reveal that tanning bed use can exponentially increase your risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma and that people who fake bake regularly (especially those who started tanning in their teens) are at an extremely high risk for developing melanoma. The World Health Organization has categorized sunbeds on the same health-risk level as substances like arsenic and nicotine.

So if tanning beds aren't the answer, what can you do?  Lifestyle adjustments like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and spending more time outdoors during daylight hours may help. If that's not enough, talk to your doctor about diagnosing this exact problem. The solution may be as simple as using a light box. Light boxes can emit up to 25 times as much light as ordinary daylight, and sitting a few feet away from one for 30 minutes each morning can give you enough "sunlight" to cure winter depression. It's best to use your light box in the morning since evening usage may make it more difficult for you to get to sleep. Choose a light box that has a UV filter and also emits 10,000 Lux of illumination. Opt for soft, white lights instead of full-spectrum ones, which can be harder on the eyes and emit more radiation. All you need to do is sit within 2-3 feet of it while reading or eating and you'll reap the benefits.

Sources: "What Is Seasonal Depression?" Cleveland Clinic Health Information: Diseases and Conditions. Web. January 4, 2008. "Tanning Beds Are Not the Answer to Winter Depression." Skin Cancer Foundation. Web. 2010 "Health Effects of UV Radiation." World Health Organization. Web. 2011