Tanorexia is not just a cultural word; it's a growing concern for people of all ages. Although many people love tanning, there is a rare syndrome of tan addiction that can be quite serious. In these cases, people are actually obsessed with getting and maintaining a tan.
Like anything else, an unhealthy preoccupation with tanning takes a recreational pastime to an obsession. It has yet to be scientifically determined if there is a physical or psychological drive behind this addiction, but with tanning salons so readily available, tanorexia should not be ignored.
There is a lot of debate over exactly how much tanning is unhealthy for you. Most dermatologists agree that tanning is a sign of skin damage, so any tanning is unnecessary and risky. However, society still projects tanned skin as a sign of health and beauty. Ironically, the more tanned you are, the less beautiful your skin will become as you age. Tanned skin, whether received naturally through the sun's rays or artificially on a tanning bed, can eventually lead to premature wrinkles, blotchy patches, dry skin, and melanoma (skin cancer).
In fact, having healthy skin involves careful monitoring of sun exposure. About 15 to 20 minutes of direct exposure is recommended to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Anything beyond that involves risk and damage to the skin.
So what happens to someone with tanorexia? There are several problems with being obsessed with your tan, not just on a physical level but on a mental level as well. Studies indicate that people who suffer from tanorexia display the same addictive behavior as smokers or people with other addictive habits. Just as in an addiction to plastic surgery, there is no point where the person reaches a goal. It's an elusive point they strive for, with no end in sight.
If you or someone you know suffers from tanorexia, you may want to talk to your dermatologist. When someone is addicted to tanning they will continue to tan no matter how dark they already are, increasing their risk of cancer due to the prolonged exposure to the UV rays. Tanning addicts who use only spray tans are not at a physical risk but they are still dealing with an obsessive compulsive disorder.
Anytime someone is dealing with a compulsive disorder they should seek help from a professional. People that get anxious if they miss a tanning session, or don't actually see how tan their skin really is, or shows other symptoms of irrational thinking about their skin may have tanorexia. Ironically, healthy and beautiful skin is more easily achieved without a tan. But, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not everyone is convinced of that fact.