Tanning addiction, playfully termed ‘tanorexia’, is a disorder in which an individual compulsively spends excessive time sunbathing or salon tanning.
It's easy to think tanning couldn't possibly be a real psychological addiction disorder, but in fact it is; tanning allows users to get 'high' on ultraviolet (UV) rays, which release chemicals in the brain to produce an enjoyable sensation. In this regard, UV rays' psychological effect is essentially similar to those sought by addicts to more traditional drugs. The only difference: the tanning addict gets his or her buzz off of the sun (or artificial light). Addiction is often brought on through individuals' chronic dissatisfaction with skin tone, inducing addicts to make repeated visits to the salon in search of well-being—and that tanning high.
Why Tanning Addiction is Harmful
Addiction to tanning is actually a lot more serious than it might at first sound. Because the skin is the body’s largest and most exposed organ, a high intake of UV rays from the sun or artificial sources (tanning beds) can lead to serious side effects like skin cancer. A 2010 study of tanning addiction found that while many people are aware of the high risks involved with tanning, these risks weren't significant enough to make them stop. As with any addiction, the brain’s attachment to a behavior can become a difficult one to battle.
Signs and Symptoms of Tanning Addiction
- High anxiety resulting from missed tanning sessions
- Dissatisfaction with light skin
- Delusional views of skin being lighter than it is
- Competition with fellow tanners over darkness of skin
- Unnatural or overly homogenous skin tone
- Skin diseases (cancer)
Overcoming Tanning Addiction
If the compulsion of an addict is simply to get darker, there are many tanning alternatives available, including creams and lotions. While these methods do not address body image issues, they do carry a reduced risk of skin diseases.
If the addiction is rooted in the psychological effects produced through tanning, treatment options are more complex and may take longer before individuals experience positive outcomes. If concerned, see a psychiatrist and or a dermatologist. If you or someone you love is afflicted by an addiction to tanning, be aware that this is a real addiciton, with real consequences. Don't hesitate to pursue the course of treatment best suited to your situation.