Are you tanorexic?
For $40 a month, Kaitlyn Boresky surrenders herself to the luminous lights and happy warmth of a tanning bed. To maintain her glow, she tans six to seven days a week, and doesn’t intend to stop.
“I go tanning because it makes me feel good,” Boresky, a Quinnipiac sophomore, said. “Most people think I like to look tan, but the main reason I go is because it gives me a little high that nothing else does.”
This beauty, though, carries a price beyond the dollar sign.
“Tanorexia,” “fake and bake,” and even “oompa loompa” are several terms used to describe the tanning contagion that influences many Quinnipiac University students. Since 1980, the frequency of melanoma in young women has increased 50 percent, according to www.skincancer.org, a national skin cancer website.
“Some of the girls and guys completely overdo it,” sophomore Krista Balzofiore said. “It gets to the point where it looks unnatural and almost unhealthy.”
A $5 billion industry, tanning salons are multiplying throughout the U.S. Many young women are now self-proclaimed tanning addicts. Though the health risks are well-publicized, many can’t resist the lure of tanning beds.
In addition to the toll on health, salon goers’ pocketbooks will be soon be taxed.
President Obama’s approved healthcare bill will burn tanning fanatics and salon owners. Effective July 1, indoor tanning salons must charge customers a 10 percent tax for their servicrs. The tax will produce an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years.
Doctors and industry financers fought the proposed tax on Botox, or “Bo-Tax.” The U.S. Senate traded the 5 percent tax on cosmetic procedures for one larger tax on tanning services in December.
“The tanning tax will decrease the number of teens who tan because teenage customers don’t want to pay,” Shannon Rosenberg, an employee at Mediterranean Tanning Salon in West Caldwell, N.J., said. “We might lose younger customers since we just raised prices on our tanning beds.”
Coincidentally, Rosenberg has noticed an increase in business during the spring and summer months, which is when the tax becomes effective.
“It’s a part of people’s daily routines. They wake up, go to the gym, go tanning, then do their laundry,” sophomore Nicole DellaValle said.
Mediterranean Tanning Salon offers employees free tanning and 50 percent off of all store products, a nice perk for Rosenberg who tans three to four days per week.
“My main concern is skin cancer, wrinkles, and sun spots,” Rosenberg said. “I take the proper precautions though. I don’t burn myself and I use creams.”
Those who use tanning beds more than once a month have a 50 percent higher chance of developing melanoma, according to www.cancer.gov, the National Cancer Institute website. Although anyone exposed to UVA and UVB rays risks skin cancer, people with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes are most susceptible, as are people with a family history of skin cancer.
Melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women ages 20 to 30, and 71 percent of tanning salon patrons are women ages 16 to 29, according to the American Cancer Society website.
“My mother has pre-cancerous cells associated with sun exposure,” Boresky said. “I make sure I use a moisturizer on my face that has SPF 20 before I tan. I know that it’s not enough and I am risking my health, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Contrary to popular belief, sunscreens, tanning oils and creams won’t prevent skin cancer. SPF (sun protection factor) only protects against UVB rays, not UVA rays. Most dermatologists won’t recommend anything below SPF 15. Many sunscreens quickly break down in the sun and lose effectiveness.
UV radiation causes short-term effects such as wrinkles, sun spots, burns, and scarring. Long-term effects include cataracts, edema, vascular system damage and increased skin damage, according to a variety of sources published in academic health journals.
“Skin is very important in that it protects the rest of our body from the outside world, helps to regulate our temperature and allows us to have a sense of touch,” said registered nurse Linda Medrzychowski from Voluntown, Conn. “Skin damage, whether from the sun or from tanning, is cumulative.”
Located in Hamden, Conn., Tommy’s Tanning Salon supplies several QU students with their tanning fix. Most tanning salons offer four levels of tanning beds. Higher levels mean more UV rays and a quicker, darker tan. Level one consists of 120 watt lamps while level four features 580 watt lamps. The monthly cost for level one is $24.99 in comparison to $79.99 a month at level four.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires tanning salons to label every UV and sunlamp product with warning statements. Since the healthcare bill passed, the FDA is considering placing stronger warnings and restrictions on tanning beds.
While tanning salons must list possible physical side effects, there aren’t any warnings for psychological addiction.
“Tanning and/or melatonin is one therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression,” Professor of Biology Michael Vieth said. “Melatonin interacts directly with the serotonin receptors in the brain, and most likely interacts with the reward pathway.
Tanning is used as a way to prolong the positive side effects of increased melatonin. But, add in the addictive personality, and we have issues.”
Tanning ranks No. 4 on the list of top 10 modern addictions, according to www.toptenz.net, a pop culture website. Tanorexia refers to a mental disease, similar to anorexia, when a person believes they are never tan enough. Addicts fear paleness or a fading tan. This obsession has spawned a number of online “tanorexics anonymous” self-help groups.
“People go tanning to look skinnier, that’s why I go,” Rosenberg said. “If I start to lose color, I freak out.”
Although there is no official 12-step rehabilitation program for tanners, simple alternatives such as spray tans and sunless tanning lotions provide the same results. Tanning therapies like melatonin pills and interventions can help decrease addiction.
A study at Wake Forest University in North Carolina revealed that “tanorexics” experience a high, much like drug addicts. UV rays produce endorphins that cause euphoric feelings. The study observed eight people who tanned frequently and eight people who tanned less than 12 times per year. All participants were given a drug to block endorphin production while using non-UV tanning beds. The frequent tanners developed withdrawal symptoms much like drug addicts.
“I do not know that we can detox a tanning addict,” Vieth said. “Just like smokers quitting after cancer, it may just take some health issue (cancer, vision issues, hair loss, sterility) to finally cause an addict to want to quit.”