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Tanorexia: Addicted to the Sun
'Tanorexia' is characterized by chronic sun exposure that stimulates the release of substances in the brain, providing a sense of pleasure and potentially leading to a dangerous addiction.

By María José Zamora, M.D.

It's summertime and with it the country's beaches are filled with local and foreign visitors, all in search of the very same thing: to enjoy the sea and sand while relaxing under a radiant sun. During this season, most people start getting some color but, when does it stop being fun to become a health problem?

In the past, tanning was frowned upon by the upper class, who associated a tanned skin with the lower classes that worked outdoors. However, this mindset has changed and tanning has become a symbol of status, wealth, beauty and even health.

Although sun exposure and tanning are regarded as normal activities during the summer months, many people maintain a year-round tan, either by prolonged sun exposure or through the use of tanning beds. This behavior, which is mostly associated with young adults, has caused excessive tanning to be diagnosed as an addiction.

An addiction is a habit that cannot be controlled. This dependence causes the person to feel an uncontrollable urge, in this case to undergo a tanning session. In medical terms, this addiction is referred to as tanorexia.


Recent studies have determined that continuous and chronic exposure to UV radiation has a high addictive potential, creating both a physiological and psychological dependence through the release of endorphins in the brain. These substances not only produce a sense of pleasure, but also act as a stimulus for this addiction.

Tanning addicts, who are mostly women, continue to tan even if aware of the risks associated with sun exposure, believing they look healthier and thinner. However, studies conducted by physicians at the University of Washington at Seattle, USA and which were published in the The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal, showed that frequent tanners also report mood enhancement and a sense of relaxation as their main motivation for tanning, thereby supporting the existence of a physiological component within the brain.

These findings are supported by studies conducted at North Carolina's Wake Forest University Medical Center, where researchers demonstrated that those who visit tanning salons frequently experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, nausea and tremors, when given a drug that blocks endorphins and their pleasure-giving properties.

The problem is that, as with other addictions, it is detrimental to the health and well-being of those who suffer from it. Just as those addicted to smoking continue to smoke even if they are aware of the risks involved and the possibility of lung cancer, tanning addicts continue to abuse UV radiation despite already having visible skin damage: the tan itself. Sunlight exposure, even for brief periods of time, can cause mutations in the DNA of skin cells, increasing the risk of skin cancer.


Could You Be Addicted to Tanning?
Answer the following questions and find out if this activity could be a problem for you.

By Francisco Renick, M.D.

The CAGE questionnaire is a validated tool that was created in 1968 at North Carolina Memorial Hospital with the goal of screening for alcohol abuse through four highly effective questions. It has been modified and adapted to evaluate other addictions and dependencies. Below, a modified version that is useful in identifying a tanning addiction:

• Have you ever felt the need to cut down on the time you spend tanning?
• Do you ever get annoyed when people comment on your tanning habits?
• Have you ever felt guilty about your tanning habits?
• Do you frequently feel the need to tan first thing in the morning (eye-opener)? Do you need for it to be your first activity of the day in order to feel good?

If you answered "yes" to 1 or 2 questions, it is important to take it as a warning sign. However, if you answered "yes" to 3 or 4 questions, you might have a tanning dependence. Try to change your tanning habits and consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.


If you are still not convinced, the effects of premature aging and a dry, leathery, wrinkled skin that will make you look much older are certainly good reasons to think twice. Always use sunscreen and look for a nice, big shadow next time you're at the beach!


More Health News

6 Techniques to Achieve Self Love, Self Care, and Better Health

As part of the ongoing series at The Yoga House on Monday nights, two more Blue Spirit teachers shared their wisdom and insight to the Nosara community. On Monday Juanuary 30th , Dr. Roger Jahnke, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine who teaches Asian traditions of self-care such as Qigong and Tai Chi, offered an experiential demonstration as an example of his four-part program of health promotion.

Four Teachers with Four Powerful Tips
How to Live a More Meaningful Life

Many of us thirst for deeper meaning in our lives. We want success, happiness and peace of mind. With all of life’s challenges and constant shifts, every now and again, we may need a little extra help figuring this all out. But reaching out for help isn’t always so easy; where do we begin?



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