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Death Beds: The Fatal Consequences of Tanorexia


WHITE LIGHT, WHITE HEAT

Casey Keenan, 17, of Farmingville is a self-proclaimed “avid tanner” and doesn’t understand why tanning beds are condemned while sunbathing at the beach on a scorching summer day is accepted.

“It’s the same thing,” Keenan says. His perfectly bronzed skin in mid-winter reflects the amount of time he spends tanning indoors. “Tanning in a bed is just another form of the sun’s rays.”


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But what about those who can’t stop?

A study of 421 college undergraduates published by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Albany in 2010 found that a subgroup of indoor tanners were hooked on their tanning the way addicts are dependent on narcotics. A 2006 study by Wake Forest University researchers found that exposure to UV radiation increases the production of endorphins, morphine-like chemicals in the brain. When researchers gave frequent tanners an opioid-blocking medication, it reduced their desire to tan. When they didn’t tan, half of the subjects would go through withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and the shakes—symptoms similar to those experienced by addicts hooked on alcohol and certain drugs.

Frequent tanners said they were aware their behavior could result in skin cancer, but 98 percent said they would continue tanning regardless.

And it is easy to be drawn in by warm beds, some equipped with 800-watt bulbs, some sleek and hot pink, others with audio systems, adjustable air conditioning, iPod hook-ups, massages, aromatherapy and water misting options.

Tanning beds are a $5 billion-a-year industry in the United States, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, up from an estimated $2 billion in 2006. Nearly 30 million people, including 2.3 million teens, tan indoors in the U.S., according the American Academy of Dermatology.

Brittany Dammer, 24, of Selden, admits she spends $60 to $80 a month on tanning. A typical tanning session costs $7.

Dammer, whose skin is slightly darker than Keenan’s, says she’s been tanning since she was 15 years old, on and off, but for the past four years, she’s tanned “religiously,” five or six times a week.

The harsh facts are, people are tanning more frequently and at a younger age. Despite the millions of people who suffer from skin cancer due to excessive tanning, most people still don’t consider tanning addiction, commonly called “tanorexia,” a real condition. But that doesn’t make the consequences tanorexics suffer any less grave.

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