Tanorexia: The real orange epidemic

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It all started with a middle school dance for sophomore Moe Manning. The Scottsdale, Ariz. native wanted to be tan for the event.

“I wasn’t 16 yet and lied about my age at the tanning place,” Manning said. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Manning now tans almost every day in a tanning bed to keep her skin the color she wants.

“I can’t imagine myself pale,” said sophomore Moe Manning, who said she has naturally has fair skin thanks to her Irish roots. “I don’t think people would recognize me.”

The medical community has a recently changed the way they see people who tan, and pop-culture has added the word “tanorexic” to its vocabulary to describe someone who can’t stop tanning.

At Pepperdine, where the beachside population has always been tanner than other areas, some students say that they feel the need to have a year-round bronze body.

The science of tanning

Doctors are beginning to see tanning in a different light other than a cosmetic choice some people make. A 2005 study by Dr. Robert Wagner, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, showed that people who tan can develop a dependency on tanning. For the study, people at beaches were given a modified version of the CAGE assessment, which was originally developed to identify people who abuse alcohol.

The study found that about 25 percent of beachgoers showed signs of a tanning addiction. However, this can not be applied to the population as a whole because beach-goers may be more prone to tanning dependency.

“It’s not such a simple phenomenon,” Wagner said. “I think it’s multi-factorial. There are psychological effects and cultural effects of tanning and maybe physiological effects.”

The study was the first of its kind, and research has not been conducted on which effects contribute most to the dependency. Even so, doctors do know that the physiological effects have some bearing in the addictive behavior.

“If endorphins are being released using exposure to sunlight, it can be that its making people feel good,” Wagner said.

The study was conducted after dermatologists noticed that some patients with skin cancer would not give up tanning.

“We tell them to stop or cut down on intense tanning,” he said. “A lot say that they like it too much to stop even though they know its bad for their skin.”

Wagner said some ways people can tell if they have a tanning addiction is if they the first thing they think about when they wake up is tanning, they feel guilty about tanning too much, they get annoyed when people say they are tan, or they feel the need to perfect a tan by spending more and more time in the sun.

Pretty in bronze

Manning said she looks better with her skin darker, which is a common idea among young people. In a 2002 study, 84.5 percent of those polled under age 25 said that they thought they look better with a tan. In 1996, 61 percent agreed with that statement, according to the Academy of Dermatology.

“It makes your skin looks better,” Manning said. “It helps even out your skin tone. If I have a choice between going to the gym and going to tan, I’d choose to tan because I don’t have to do any work.”

But for Manning, tanning is work. She works for Malibu Tan, where she is able to use beds and Mystic Tan at her disposal.

“That’s one of the reason’s why I love my job,” she said. “Now that I work here it’s a bad situation, because I tan free.”

The tanning craze is not limited to only women.

Freshman Alex Zapata, who was interviewed on the phone while he was tanning outdoors, tans two to three times each week either outside or in a tanning bed.

“It’s a good feeling,” Zapata said. “My skin looks better when I tan. It’s relaxing to lay in a tanning bed and know no one is going to bother you.”

Zapata said a big factor in why he tans is that he’s guaranteed to be alone.

Zapata began tanning outdoors in the 8th grade and began using tanning beds in the 10th  grade.

“I know a lot of guys who do it,” Zapata said. “It’s a growing trend with guys. Most tanning salons that I go to the worker behind the counter is a guy.”

But not all see being dark as necessary.

“I’ve been told, ‘Orange isn’t a skin color,’” Zapata said. “I thought, ‘That isn’t very nice of you.’”

Manning said that over the summer her friends told her she was “awkwardly tan.” She said others tell her she is tanner than she thinks she is.

“I don’t really see it,” she said. “I tan everyday, and so I don’t notice. It’s one of those things where if you see a puppy and then see it a few months later you say ‘it’s gotten so big,’ but the owner doesn’t think so.”

Manning that it would be really difficult to quit tanning in beds, laying out and Mystic Tan all together.

“It would be really hard to stop, once you get into it,” Manning said. “I can’t imagine myself really pale.”

Feeling the burn

Both Manning and Zapata said they are both concerned about possible damage they could be doing to their skin, mostly that they will get wrinkles later in life.

Manning said she wears sunscreen on her face and shoulders to avoid damage and freckles.

“My mom worshipped the sun when she was younger, and I can tell she has premature aging,” Manning said.

But people are willing to make the trade-off for tan skin now, for possible skin damage later.

“It’s something you give and take,” Zapata said. “I don’t want to say [tanning] is just as bad as smoking a cigarette, but it’s a give and take.”

Manning also said that the bed she uses emits only 1 percent of UVB rays to try to be a safer tanner. UVB rays are related to most cases of non-melanoma cancer, and UVA rays affects long-term skin damage.

Traditionally, people with skin cancer are older. In recent years, younger people being diagnosed with skin cancer, Wagner said.

“Now we see people who are getting skin cancer in their 20s,” Wagner said. “Lifeguards got it a lot, now we are seeing people who just like the sun a lot.”

Wagner said that often the case with younger people is non-melanoma skin cancer, which can require reconstructive surgery.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer, including melanoma and non-melanoma, is the most common type of cancer counting for about half of all cancers.

The number of new cases of melanoma in the United States is rising. In 2006 there will be 62,190 new cases of melanoma in this country. About 7,910 people will die of this disease.

Although Wagner said tanning in beds or outside is bad for skin, it does help with the body’s production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D or the “sunshine vitamin,” Wagner said, is not the easiest to get through food. Fish oils have the most of the vitamin and milk and orange juice also have small amounts.

“There are positive health effects [to tanning],” said Melissa Haynes of the Indoor Tanning Association.

She added that some studies have shown sun exposure helps prevent colon and breast cancer as well as osteoporosis.

“Regular-moderate exposure is essential to good health,” Haynes said. “We urge people and caution people to never get burned.”

Wagner disagrees.

“It’s pretty well shown that ultraviolet light even in small amount causes genetical damage that leads to skin cancer,” he said.

Wagner said if people are insistent on tanning, they should look for irregularities in their skin, stay informed about prevention and have regular visits to the doctor.

Men usually get cancer on their backs and women are more prone to cancer on the legs.