Tanning dependence

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Tanning dependence is a syndrome where an individual appears to have a physical or psychological dependence on sunbathing or the use of ultraviolet (UV) tanning beds.[1] Compulsive tanning may satisfy the definition of a behavioral addiction as well.[2][3][4]

Medical evidence[edit]

Tanning dependence may have a physiological basis involving endogenous opioids. There is evidence that UV exposure produces beta-endorphin in the epidermis and conflicting evidence of this opioid being released into the blood system, a pathway to the brain.[5] A small study also found the opioid antagonist naltrexone reduced preference for UV tanning beds and at higher doses produced withdraw symptoms in frequent tanners.[5] Better understanding of tanning dependence requires further controlled studies, especially in imaging and neurobiology.[6]

The finding that excessive tanning can lead to dependence is based upon "the observations of many dermatologists." Dermatologists tell researchers that although they advise their patients not to visit tanning beds because of the risk of melanoma, patients still do. In a 2014 literature review, researchers wrote that many people who tan excessively meet psychiatry's symptom criteria for substance abuse.[7]


Tanorexia is the term used to describe a condition in which a person, most notably Caucasian people, participates in excessive outdoor sun tanning or excessive use of other skin tanning methods (such as tanning beds) to achieve a darker skin complexion because they perceive themselves as unacceptably pale.[8] The syndrome is different from tanning dependence, although both may fit into the same syndrome and can be considered a subset of tanning dependence.

Although the term "tanorexia" has been used by the media and several doctors to describe the syndrome, both the word and syndrome have not been widely accepted by the medical community, and is considered slang by many. The term was coined after the medical condition anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight. It can be likened to the common practice of adding the suffix "-aholic" (from the term alcoholic) to the end of any action or food someone enjoys extensively and often (e.g., "choc-aholic," "work-aholic" "golf-aholic," "shop-aholic," etc.).

Serious cases of tanorexia can be considered dangerous. This is because many of the more popular methods of tanning (such as those mentioned above) require prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which is known to be a cause of many negative side effects, including skin cancer.

Extreme instances may be an indication of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD),[9] a mental disorder in which one is extremely critical of his or her physique or self-image to an obsessive and compulsive degree. As it is with anorexia, a person with BDD is said to show signs of a characteristic called distorted body image. In layman's terms, anorexia sufferers commonly believe they are overweight, many times claiming they see themselves as "fat", when in reality, they are often, but not always, nutritionally underweight and physically much thinner than the average person. In the same way, a sufferer of "tanorexia" may believe him or herself to have a much lighter – even a pale – complexion when he or she is actually quite dark-skinned.

Neither tanning dependence nor tanorexia are covered under the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, a 2005 article in The Archives of Dermatology presents a case for UV light tanning dependence to be viewed as a type of substance abuse disorder.[10]

In 2012, New Jersey mother Patricia Krentcil received national media attention amid accusations that she had brought her then five-year-old daughter, Anna, with her to a tanning salon in order for Anna to tan. The child's school nurse had expressed concern over her sunburn, at which point the daughter claimed she had gone "tanning with Mommy." This prompted the school to call Division of Youth and Family Services, as New Jersey law bans children under 14 from tanning booths.[11] Initial media coverage of the event resulted in widespread attention given to Patricia's unusually bronzed image, leading many to speculate that she was tanorexic.[12] She was subsequently charged with second degree child endangerment[13] as well as banned from over 60 tanning salons in the tri-state area.[14] Patricia claimed that it was all a misunderstanding, saying her daughter was never exposed to the tanning booth's UV rays and instead got slightly sunburned while playing outside on a warm day.[15] She was later cleared of the charge.[16] At one point, she was challenged to stop tanning for one month, which she did, greatly changing her appearance. She claimed it made her feel "weird and pale", and that she would cut back on tanning, but not eliminate it from her hobbies. A Connecticut-based business also attempted to seize and capitalize on the "tan mom" craze by creating an action figure doll of Patricia.[17] More information about tanorexia. [18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warthan, M. M.; Uchida, T.; Wagner Jr, R. F. (2005). "UV Light Tanning as a Type of Substance-Related Disorder". Archives of Dermatology. 141 (8): 963–966. doi:10.1001/archderm.141.8.963. PMID 16103324. 
  2. ^ Kourosh, Arianne S.; Harrington, Cynthia R.; Adinoff, Bryon (2010). "Tanning as a Behavioral Addiction". The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 36 (5): 284–90. doi:10.3109/00952990.2010.491883. PMID 20545604. 
  3. ^ Petit, A; Lejoyeux, M; Reynaud, M; Karila, L (2014). "Excessive indoor tanning as a behavioral addiction: a literature review". Current Pharmaceutical Design. 20 (25): 4070–4075. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990615. ISSN 1873-4286. PMID 24001299. 
  4. ^ Nolan, BV; Taylor, SL; Liguori, A; Feldman, SR (2009). "Tanning as an addictive behavior: a literature review". Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. 25 (1): 12–19. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0781.2009.00392.x. ISSN 1600-0781. PMID 19152511. 
  5. ^ a b Heckman, CJ (2011). "Indoor tanning: Tanning dependence and other health risks". Skin Care. 6: 20–22. 
  6. ^ Petit, A; Lejoyeux, M; Reynaud, M; Karila, L (2014). "Excessive indoor tanning as a behavioral addiction: a literature review.". Current pharmaceutical design. 20 (25): 4070–5. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990615. PMID 24001299. 
  7. ^ Petit, A; Lejoyeux, M; Reynaud, M; Karila, L (2014). "Excessive indoor tanning as a behavioral addiction: a literature review.". Current pharmaceutical design. 20 (25): 4070–5. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990615. PMID 24001299. 
  8. ^ "Young 'tanorexics' risking cancer". BBC News. 24 May 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  9. ^ Hunter-Yates J, Dufresne RG, Phillips KA (May 2007). "Tanning in body dysmorphic disorder". J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 56 (5 Suppl): S107–9. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2006.05.025. PMID 17434030. 
  10. ^ M. Warthan, T. Uchida, R. Wagner, Jr. UV Light Tanning as a Type of Substance-Related Disorder. Archives of Dermatology, August 2005; vol 141: pp 963-966.
  11. ^ "Grand jury says no indictment for mom in tan salon visit by daughter, 5". 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  12. ^ 'Tanning Mom' In Court, Denies Daughter, 5, Burned in Tan Salon: Does She Suffer from 'Tanorexia'?
  13. ^ "New Jersey tanning mom denies charges of child endangerment". 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  14. ^ "'Tanning mom' Patricia Krentcil banned from over 60 tanning salons, report says". 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  15. ^ "NJ Mom Arrested for Allegedly Taking Daughter, 5, into Tanning Booth". 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  16. ^ "'I'm still going to tan,' vows mom cleared in endangerment case". 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  17. ^ "'Tanning mom' no longer tan". 2012-08-03. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  18. ^ "More information about Tanorexia". 2016-07-11. Retrieved 2016-07-11.