In a July 12th issue of InTouch Weekly there was a special report entitled “Addicted to Tanning” where images of orange toned celebrities graced the magazine pages. Extremely tanned examples from Hollywood included the likes of Donatella Versace, George Hamilton, and Paris Hilton. Reality star from the Jersey Shore, “Snooki,” who has advocated having a year round tan in order to be beautiful, is also featured as someone who may be tanorexic. What is tanorexia? Just like with anorexia where one has the belief that you can never be thin enough, tanorexics believe that you can never be tan enough. “Tanorexia” is a term used nowadays to describe a tanning addiction.
As I have described in a previous post entitled, “Our Image of Beauty may be Contributing to the Rise in Skin Cancer," looking to celebrities as role models of how we should look may be associated with tanning addiction in the general population. We see these constant images of bronzed stars and we want to look that way too because we have been sold on an image of beauty as someone with a tan.
Tanorexics or individuals with a tanning addiction are not only sold upon a tan image of beauty, they may also have a true chemical dependency on the act of tanning. This is what researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found when they discovered that ultraviolet light can produce endorphins in the brain which can create feelings of euphoria. When tanorexics are deprived of their tanning salon sessions or sunbathing outdoors they may experience withdrawal symptoms that may include nausea, dizziness, and shaking.
Some people who are addicted to tanning describe it as an obsession. Some have a genuine fear of being pale and experience anxiety if they are unable to tan. This translates into adjusting one’s day so that visits to the tanning salon are always top priority. When your whole day revolves around when you are able to tan, you may have a tanning addiction.
To find out if you may have an addiction to tanning please take our quiz, “Do You Have a Tanning Addiction?”
Despite current warnings that frequent trips to tanning salons puts one more at risk for deadly skin cancers, many people still frequent tanning salons or bake in the sun in order to get that perfect year round tan. The InTouch Weekly article quoted a statistic that as many as 30 million Americans are still visiting indoor tanning salons every year. The majority of individuals who go to such lengths in order to tan are usually young women under the age of thirty. This population is especially at risk for developing a fatal melanoma due to their tanning practices.
What most fail to realize is that a twenty-minute session in a tanning bed is the equivalent to several hours of sun tanning outdoors and that a tanning bed intensifies the skin damage process. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, cited research to show that if you are using tanning beds before the age of thirty, you are upping your risk for melanoma by 75%. If that doesn’t make you take pause I am not sure what will.
For many individuals who have a tanning addiction, the health warnings do not seem to matter. Some are not swayed to change their behavior due to the scare of possible skin cancer. People who tan because they feel it makes them look attractive may listen more when you tell them that tanning can cause premature aging of the skin including age spots, sagging leathery skin, and wrinkles.
It is uncertain as to what it will take for some people to listen to the message that sun exposure and visiting tanning salons is not good for your health or for the appearance of your skin. If you feel that you may have an addiction to tanning and cannot stop, it may be wise to talk to a mental health professional who can help you overcome your addiction. Some current research is showing that people having a tanning addiction may have an underlying mood or anxiety related disorder.
For more information about the dangers of tanning please refer to the following Health Central articles:
Published On: July 31, 2010