Tanorexia is a form of tanning addiction, characterized by a belief that one's skin is never quite dark enough. The name for this condition is obviously meant to evoke anorexia, another form of body image disorder which causes people to constantly try to lose more weight, under the impression that they are heavier than they really are. While the thought of a tanning addiction might seem laughable, tanning addictions and tanorexia are actually very serious problems.
Simply put, tanning addiction is a syndrome in which people feel a constant need to tan, much as smokers frequently desire cigarettes. Someone with a tanning addiction may spend hours sunbathing or in tanning beds, and he or she may complain about a loss of tan after a few days of inclement weather. In some cases, the tanning schedule becomes so important that someone with a tanning addiction will decline social engagements or miss work in order to tan, and when someone with a tanning addiction tries to stop, he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms.
The cause of tanning addiction appears to be the release of endorphins and opioids during the tanning process. The body releases these chemicals in response to UV exposure, generating a sort of high much like that linked with other addictive habits. Several psychological studies have focused on tanorexia and tanning addiction to explore the nature of these conditions, and these studies seem to suggest that people with tanning addictions really do need supportive care to stop, just as addicts of various substances and certain experiences do.
Someone who has tanorexia has a very specific type of tanning addiction, compounded with body image issues. When a tanorexic looks in the mirror, he or she sees a body which is too pale, despite his or her actual appearance. Essentially, a profound disconnect separates the tanorexic from the mirror, leading to the pursuit of more tanning for the desired perfectly bronzed look.
In addition to being bad for self esteem and one's social life, tanorexia is also very bad for the body. Dark skin is damaged skin, forming in response to exposure to excessive radiation, and people who tan frequently are at increased risk for skin cancer and other skin problems. They may also develop leathery, unsightly skin later in life as a response to excessive tanning, which may in turn cause body image issues. Because of the obvious health risks of tanorexia, people with this condition should seek treatment to protect their psyches and their skins.