Tanning dependence

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Tanning dependence is a rare syndrome where an individual appears to have a physical or psychological dependence on sunbathing or the use of tanning beds.[1] Based upon one review, compulsive tanning may satisfy the definition of a behavioral addiction as well.[2]

Medical evidence[edit]

In 2005, a group of dermatologists published a study showing that frequent tanners experience a loss of control over their tanning schedule, displaying a pattern of dependence similar to smokers and alcoholics. [3]

Biochemical evidence implicates opioidergic mechanisms in tanning dependence. When frequent tanners took an endorphin blocker in a 2006 study, they experienced severe withdrawal symptoms, while infrequent tanners experienced no withdrawal symptoms under the same conditions. [4]


Tanorexia is the term used to describe a condition in which a person 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. [5] 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), [6] 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.[3]

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.[7] 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. [1] She was subsequently charged with second degree child endangerment[8] as well as banned from over 60 tanning salons in the tri-state area.[9] 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.[10] She was later cleared of the charge.[11] 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.[12]

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. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ M. Kaur, A. Liguori, W. Lang, S. Rapp, A. Fleischer, Jr., S. Feldman. Induction of withdrawal-like symptoms in a small randomized, controlled trial of opioid blockade in frequent tanners. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54(4): p. 709-711, 2006
  5. ^ "Young 'tanorexics' risking cancer". BBC News. 24 May 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Grand jury says no indictment for mom in tan salon visit by daughter, 5". 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  8. ^ "New Jersey tanning mom denies charges of child endangerment". 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  9. ^ "'Tanning mom' Patricia Krentcil banned from over 60 tanning salons, report says". 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  10. ^ "NJ Mom Arrested for Allegedly Taking Daughter, 5, into Tanning Booth". 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  11. ^ "'I'm still going to tan,' vows mom cleared in endangerment case". 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  12. ^ "'Tanning mom' no longer tan". 2012-08-03. Retrieved 2013-03-01.