Can Using Tanning Beds Help Improve Mood?

During Wisconsin’s long winter, some who don’t get enough sunshine can feel down.

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One viewer wanted to know about alternatives to the sun to improve her mood. Maria from Madison wanted to know: “Can tanning — or fake baking — make you happy during the winter?”

Dr. Ken Robbins, of Stoughton Hospital and contributor, has studied the effects of the sun on people. He’s an expert on SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“The sun stimulates melatonin and then there’s a whole cascade of affects that improve mood,” Robbins said. “In Wisconsin, probably somewhere approaching 10 percent of our population have seasonal affective disorder symptoms. They typically start around November and they typically end around April.”

Madison Tanning Company said this is a busy time of year, largely due to people wanting more sunshine to feel better.

“Starting in February, we notice an increase of people coming in and tanning,” said Andrea Albrecht, of Madison Tanning Company. “I definitely think it really does make you feel better when it’s freezing cold out. It’s nice to come in and lay down for 15 minutes and relax.”

But medically are the tanning beds helping? Robbins said “not quite.”

“It’s not going to solve SAD, because it isn’t the kind of light that is helpful for SAD,” Robbins said.

In order to really feel better — and treat SAD — the doctor said people need the sun’s full-spectrum light. It’s that light that stimulates serotonin in the body, improving one’s mood.

“(Tanning) may make you feel happier psychologically if you’re someone who enjoys having a tan. If what we’re talking about is the treatment of SAD, no, it doesn’t treat Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Robbins said.

Research does indicate that fake tanning can help the body produce vitamin D, which some say can help with a variety of things, including preventing heart disease, depression, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.