Understanding Tanorexia: The Dark Reality of Compulsive Tanning and Skin Cancer

I. Introduction

Excessive tanning has become a concerning issue in today’s society, leading to various health risks and consequences. One particular manifestation of this is a condition known as tanorexia, which refers to a compulsive desire to maintain an extremely dark tan. In this article, we will delve into the dark reality of tanorexia, exploring its definition, origins, and the detrimental effects it can have on individuals. By understanding the dangers associated with tanorexia, we can promote healthier beauty standards and advocate for skin protection.

The harmful effects of excessive tanning are well-documented, with tanorexia being an extreme manifestation of this behavior. Individuals with tanorexia exhibit a physical or psychological dependence on sunbathing or UV tanning beds, similar to those with anorexia. The term “tanorexia” was coined in 1989, highlighting its similarities to the eating disorder. This condition has gained attention over the years due to its significant impact on individuals’ health and well-being.

The evolution of tanning culture has played a significant role in the prevalence of tanorexia. Sunbathing, once considered a leisurely activity, has transformed into a widespread obsession with achieving a deep tan. Tanning beds emerged as a popular alternative in 1978, allowing individuals to acquire a tan even without direct exposure to sunlight. Moreover, the mid-1990s witnessed the emergence of a new trend called Ganguro in Japan, which glorified dark tans as a fashion statement. These cultural shifts have contributed to the rise of tanorexia and the normalization of excessive tanning practices.

Through this exploration of tanorexia, we aim to shed light on the dangers and consequences associated with this compulsive behavior. By raising awareness and understanding the underlying factors contributing to tanorexia, we can work towards promoting healthier beauty ideals and prioritizing skin health. It is crucial to recognize the severity of tanorexia and take proactive measures to prevent its detrimental effects on individuals’ lives.

II. The Definition and Origins of Tanorexia

Tanorexia, also known as tanning dependence, is a condition characterized by a compulsive desire to maintain an extremely dark tan[^wikipedia]. Coined in 1989, the term “tanorexia” draws parallels to anorexia, highlighting the obsessive nature of the behavior[^merriam-webster]. This condition is rooted in both psychological and physical components, leading individuals to engage in excessive tanning practices despite the associated risks[^mdedge].

A Psychological and Physical Obsession

Individuals with tanorexia experience a psychological and physical dependence on sunbathing or UV tanning beds[^wikipedia]. This obsession can be likened to an addiction, as individuals crave the pleasurable sensations associated with tanning[^huffpost]. The desire for a dark tan becomes a compulsion, driving individuals to engage in frequent and prolonged exposure to UV radiation[^mdedge].

The Origins of the Term

The term “tanorexia” was introduced in 1989 to describe the addictive nature of excessive tanning[^merriam-webster]. By combining the words “tan” and “anorexia,” it emphasizes the similarities between the obsessive pursuit of a tan and the distorted body image associated with anorexia nervosa[^wikipedia]. Tanorexia has since gained recognition as a distinct disorder, underscoring its significance within the realm of body image and self-perception[^merriam-webster].

Evolution of Tanning Culture

The prevalence of tanorexia can be attributed, in part, to the evolution of tanning culture[^wikipedia]. The emergence of tanning beds in 1978 revolutionized the industry, offering a controlled alternative for achieving a tan regardless of sun exposure[^wikipedia]. This innovation quickly gained popularity, enabling individuals to acquire a desired skin tone with convenience[^wikipedia].

Cultural shifts have also played a role in the normalization of excessive tanning practices. In the mid-1990s, Japan witnessed the emergence of Ganguro, a fashion trend where individuals purposefully darkened their skin through tanning[^wikipedia]. This trend set a new standard of beauty, associating a deep tan with youth, rebellion, and individuality[^wikipedia]. The influence of such cultural phenomena further perpetuated the obsession with tanning and contributed to the development of tanorexia[^wikipedia].

By understanding the definition and origins of tanorexia, we gain insight into the complex factors that contribute to the development of this condition[^mdedge]. The psychological and physical components, along with the evolving tanning culture, shed light on the underlying causes and motivations behind tanorexia. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the compulsive nature of tanorexia and explore real-life experiences of individuals affected by this condition[^mdedge][^huffpost].

III. The Compulsive Nature of Tanorexia

Tanorexia is characterized by a compulsive obsession with tanning, which can have profound effects on individuals’ physical and mental well-being[^mdedge]. This section explores the compulsive nature of tanorexia, shedding light on the behaviors and thought patterns associated with this condition.

The Drive for a Dark Tan

Individuals with tanorexia exhibit an intense drive to achieve and maintain a dark tan, often going to extreme lengths to fulfill this desire[^mdedge]. They may spend excessive amounts of time in tanning beds or under the sun, disregarding the potential risks and consequences.

Distorted Body Image

Similar to individuals with anorexia, those with tanorexia often have a distorted body image[^pchtreatment]. They perceive their appearance as unattractive or unhealthy without a deep tan, leading to an excessive preoccupation with tanning. This distorted perception can fuel the compulsion to tan excessively, as individuals believe it is necessary to improve their self-esteem and body image.

Emotional Self-Medication

For some individuals, compulsive tanning serves as a form of emotional self-medication[^pchtreatment]. Research suggests that individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) may compulsively tan to cover up perceived skin imperfections and self-medicate negative emotions. Engaging in excessive tanning can provide temporary relief from anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem, creating a cycle of dependence on the pleasurable effects of UV rays.

Addictive Personality Traits

Compulsive tanning may also be associated with an addictive personality[^pchtreatment]. Individuals with addictive tendencies are more likely to develop a dependency on certain behaviors or substances, including tanning. The combination of addictive personality traits and the pleasurable sensations experienced during tanning can contribute to the development and perpetuation of tanorexia.

By understanding the compulsive nature of tanorexia, we gain insight into the motivations and thought processes driving this behavior[^mdedge]. The intense drive for a dark tan, distorted body image, emotional self-medication, and addictive personality traits all contribute to the complex nature of tanorexia. In the following sections, we will delve into the real-life experiences of individuals affected by tanorexia, highlighting the profound impact it can have on their lives[^huffpost].

IV. Real-Life Experiences of Tanorexia

To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of tanorexia, it is important to explore the real-life experiences of individuals affected by this condition. These stories shed light on the challenges and consequences associated with compulsive tanning.

The Story of a Tanorexia Survivor

One survivor of tanorexia shared her personal journey of addiction to tanning and the subsequent diagnosis of melanoma at a young age. She described her addiction as an obsession fueled by the pleasure chemicals produced by UV rays[^huffpost]. Her experience serves as a powerful reminder of the dangers of excessive tanning and the importance of promoting healthy beauty standards and skin protection.

TANS Syndrome: A Tragic Case

A tragic case of tanorexia is the story of a 35-year-old woman diagnosed with TANS syndrome, a disorder characterized by compulsive tanning bed use and severe anorexia[^mdedge]. Despite multiple treatments for her skin cancer, she ultimately succumbed to cardiovascular complications of anorexia. This case highlights the severity of the physical and psychological consequences associated with tanorexia.

The Tanning Mom and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The infamous case of the “Tanning Mom” raised questions about the correlation between compulsive tanning and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)[^pchtreatment]. This New Jersey mom faced child endangerment charges for taking her daughter to a tanning salon, drawing attention to her extreme tan and potential underlying psychological issues. Research suggests that individuals with BDD may compulsively tan as a means to cover up perceived skin imperfections and self-medicate negative emotions[^pchtreatment].

These real-life experiences offer a glimpse into the devastating effects of tanorexia on individuals’ lives. From the survivor who battled addiction and melanoma to the tragic case of TANS syndrome and the scrutiny faced by the Tanning Mom, these stories underscore the importance of raising awareness about the dangers of tanorexia and promoting healthier attitudes towards beauty and skin protection[^huffpost][^mdedge][^pchtreatment]. In the following sections, we will explore the available treatment options for tanorexia and discuss strategies for prevention and intervention.

V. Treatment and Prevention of Tanorexia

Addressing tanorexia requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on both treatment and prevention. In this section, we will explore various strategies and options available to help individuals overcome tanorexia and promote healthier behaviors.

Therapy and Counseling

Therapy and counseling play a crucial role in treating tanorexia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and challenge distorted beliefs and behaviors related to tanning[^wikipedia]. By addressing underlying psychological factors and providing coping mechanisms, therapy can aid in breaking the cycle of tanorexia.

Medication and Addiction Treatment

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage the underlying psychological factors contributing to tanorexia[^wikipedia]. Additionally, addiction treatment programs can provide support and guidance for individuals struggling with the compulsive nature of tanorexia. These programs often incorporate a combination of therapy, support groups, and medication-assisted treatment to address the addictive aspects of tanorexia[^wikipedia].

Hypnosis and Alternative Therapies

Hypnosis and alternative therapies have shown promise in treating tanorexia. Hypnotherapy can help individuals reframe their thoughts and associations with tanning, promoting healthier attitudes towards sun exposure[^wikipedia]. Other alternative therapies, such as mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques, can also aid in stress reduction and promote self-care, helping individuals manage the underlying triggers for tanorexia.

Education and Awareness

Prevention plays a crucial role in combatting tanorexia. By raising awareness about the dangers of excessive tanning and the potential risks of skin cancer, we can encourage individuals to make informed choices about sun exposure[^wikipedia]. Education campaigns, public health initiatives, and school programs can provide valuable information about the importance of sun protection and healthy skin practices.

Regulation and Safety Measures

Regulation and safety measures can also contribute to the prevention of tanorexia. Governments and health organizations can implement stricter regulations on tanning salons, ensuring that proper safety measures and age restrictions are in place[^wikipedia]. By promoting responsible tanning practices and reducing access to tanning beds for vulnerable populations, we can help prevent the development of tanorexia.

By combining therapy and counseling, medication and addiction treatment, hypnosis and alternative therapies, education and awareness, as well as regulation and safety measures, we can create a multi-faceted approach to address tanorexia. These strategies aim to provide support and guidance to individuals struggling with tanorexia, while also working towards preventing the development of this harmful condition in the first place[^wikipedia].

VI. The Evolution of Tanning Culture

Tanning culture has undergone significant changes over the years, with various trends and practices shaping societal attitudes towards sun-kissed skin. In this section, we will explore the evolution of tanning culture, from the rise of tanning beds to the emergence of new trends.

Popularity of Tanning Beds

Tanning beds gained popularity in the United States in 1978, providing an alternative to natural sun exposure for achieving a tan[^wikipedia]. These indoor tanning devices emit artificial UV radiation, allowing individuals to darken their skin without spending extended periods in the sun. However, the increased availability and use of tanning beds have been linked to an increase in the prevalence of tanorexia and the associated risks of skin cancer[^wikipedia].

Tanorexia in Japan: The Ganguro Trend

In the mid-1990s, a new trend called Ganguro emerged in Japan, challenging traditional beauty standards. Ganguro involved deep tans achieved through excessive tanning bed use, coupled with heavy makeup, bright-colored clothing, and bleached hair[^wikipedia]. While Ganguro was initially seen as a rebellious fashion statement, it highlighted the potential dangers of tanorexia and its impact on cultural perceptions of beauty and skin tone.

“The Ganguro trend in Japan showcased the extreme lengths some individuals would go to achieve a deep tan, further emphasizing the allure of tanorexia within certain cultural contexts.” (source

Shifting Beauty Standards and Self-Acceptance

In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards embracing natural skin tones and promoting self-acceptance. The focus has shifted from striving for a deep tan to prioritizing sun protection and overall skin health. This change in beauty standards aims to counteract the harmful effects of tanorexia and promote a healthier relationship with the sun.

“The shift towards embracing natural skin tones reflects a growing awareness of the potential risks associated with excessive tanning and the importance of prioritizing skin health.” (source

As tanning culture continues to evolve, it is important to recognize the impact of societal trends on individual behaviors and perceptions. By promoting healthier attitudes towards beauty, sun protection, and self-acceptance, we can work towards a future where tanorexia becomes a thing of the past.

VII. Conclusion

Tanorexia, or tanning dependence, is a condition characterized by a compulsive desire to maintain an extremely dark tan[^merriam-webster]. This obsession with tanning can lead to serious health consequences, including an increased risk of skin cancer, burns, premature aging, and eye damage[^wikipedia]. While tanorexia primarily affects individuals who use tanning beds or engage in excessive sunbathing, it is important to recognize that anyone can develop an unhealthy relationship with tanning.

In this article, we have explored the concept of tanorexia, its potential causes, and the associated risks. We have discussed the psychological and physical factors that contribute to tanorexia, highlighting the role of societal beauty standards and addictive tendencies[^pchtreatment]. Through personal anecdotes and information from various sources, we have shed light on the damaging effects of tanorexia and the importance of addressing this condition.

Treatment for tanorexia involves a multi-faceted approach, including therapy, medication, addiction treatment, and alternative therapies like hypnosis[^wikipedia]. Additionally, education, awareness, and regulation are essential in preventing the development of tanorexia and promoting healthier attitudes towards sun exposure[^wikipedia].

It is crucial to prioritize skin health and adopt sun-safe practices to prevent the harmful consequences of tanorexia. Regular self-examinations, wearing protective clothing, and using broad-spectrum sunscreen are some of the key measures to protect our skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation. Remember, a healthy and balanced approach to sun exposure is key to maintaining optimal skin health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with tanorexia, seek professional help and support. Together, we can overcome tanorexia and promote healthier beauty standards that prioritize self-acceptance and sun protection.

Check out our other great content on better-yourself.co.uk to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and improving your overall well-being.

Remember, your skin is precious, and taking care of it is essential for a better and brighter future.


Q. What is tanorexia and who does it affect?

A. Tanorexia, or tanning dependence, is a condition where individuals develop a compulsive desire to maintain an extremely dark tan. It can affect anyone who engages in excessive tanning or uses tanning beds.

Q. How does tanorexia impact skin health?

A. Tanorexia can have detrimental effects on skin health, including an increased risk of skin cancer, burns, premature aging, and eye damage. It is important to prioritize sun protection and maintain a healthy relationship with the sun.

Q. What are the potential causes of tanorexia?

A. Tanorexia can be influenced by various factors, such as societal beauty standards, addictive tendencies, and the desire to cover perceived skin imperfections. It is a complex condition with both psychological and physical components.

Q. How can tanorexia be treated?

A. Treatment for tanorexia often involves a combination of therapy, medication, addiction treatment, and alternative therapies like hypnosis. Seeking professional help is crucial for addressing and overcoming tanorexia.

Q. Who is at a higher risk of developing tanorexia?

A. Individuals who frequently use tanning beds, engage in excessive sunbathing, or feel pressured to achieve a deep tan are at a higher risk of developing tanorexia. However, it is important to note that anyone can be affected.

Q. What steps can be taken to prevent tanorexia?

A. Preventing tanorexia involves promoting healthier attitudes towards sun exposure, implementing regulations on tanning bed usage, and raising awareness about the risks of excessive tanning. Sun-safe practices and regular skin examinations are also crucial.

Q. Isn’t having a tan considered attractive?

A. While societal beauty standards may have traditionally associated a tan with attractiveness, it is important to prioritize skin health over temporary beauty ideals. Embracing natural skin tones and practicing sun safety can help maintain long-term skin health and well-being.