The dangers of being tanorexic

May 19, 2008 8:38:45 PM PDT
Eyewitness News took a look at tanning salons and a problem you've likely never heard of. Women, mostly, who are addicted to tanning. They call them tanorexics.

Addicted is indeed the right word. And it's dangerous, extremely dangerous.

It can cause cancer.

Michelle Charlesworth has more.

"It's bodybuilding, but with heels and looking pretty," Karen Walsh said.

Walsh is 25 years old, and she takes care of herself. She would never eat garbage, but admits that she tans all the time.

"Tanning is definitely part of it," she said.

Like so many young women between 16 and 35, Karen says she's a tanorexic, a woman who doesn't know when to stop tanning. Starting in spring, she goes to tanning beds all the time.

"Every other day," she said. "Or sometimes I'll wait every two days, depending on if I just start out, it's not that often."

Increasingly, scientists are developing theories. If people say they are addicted to tanning, what makes it addictive? The research has boiled down to three natural uppers released after sun or UV exposure. They are:

  • Melatonin, which makes us happy and relaxed
  • Vitamin D
  • Endorphins, the same thing runners get with runners' high

    Michelle: "Do you anticipate that you're going to stop at any point?"
    Karen: "Of course, absolutely."
    Michelle: "Just not now."
    Karen: "No."

    She's laughing, nonchalant and not alone. She is unafraid of looking older or dying of, worst case scenario, melanoma.

    And melanoma cases started exploding about eight years ago.

    "We started to see marked increases in the cases of melanoma in women 25 to 35," said Dr. Darrell Rigel, of the NYU Medical Center. "Women in their teens and early 20s are five times more likely to use a tanning bed and over 40 percent of 18-year-old women use tanning beds, primarily before their prom.

    Karen: "It definitely has wrinkled a little bit. You know, your laugh lines are probably a little bit more defined."
    Michelle: "You're not worried about that? What about skin cancer?"
    Karen: "Yes and no. I don't think I abuse it too much. But you never know, anything can happen."

    But doctors stress that this bad thing doesn't have to.