Tanorexia: the new addiction to tanning

(Graphic by Lena Yang)
(Graphic by Lena Yang)

There is no question that today’s media influences the way that people act and look. People ignore the way that they were meant to look and give in to this constructed idea of what beauty is. It is normal for people to want to fit into these standards, but it can sometimes become a dangerous addiction.

One trend that has been around for a while is tanning at a salon. Although tanning beds have been in the media for quite some time, the level to which people use these tanning beds has arguably become a fixture in today’s way of living, thanks to reality shows like Jersey Shore which blatantly advertise the use of tanning beds. Whereas people used to tan in order to have that ‘summertime glow,’ they are now trying to become darker and darker. This new phenomenon has been dubbed as “Tanorexia.”

The problem with this is that there are many health risks linked to tanning beds. The main health risk connected with tanning is the gradual development of skin cancer. The constant exposure to UV rays can also cause skin deterioration, which can affect the immune system. This kind of harsh exposure weakens the immune system, making it more and more difficult for the body to defend itself against cancerous cells. The other problem with Tanorexia is that tanning can become extremely addictive. Once a person notices a difference, they want to continue, so that they can keep getting darker and darker. This manifests itself as an addiction.

Fiona Acton-Ambrose, a Wilfrid Laurier University student, fell victim to the tanning craze just before her prom and though she wanted it to be just a few tanning sessions, it ended up becoming a serious addiction. She described her previous tanning addiction, when she said, “I chose my own vanity over health because I cared more about how I looked than the damages that could have been done to my skin. I was willingly ignorant about my Tanorexia.”

Acton-Ambrose’s situation became serious when she found a benign tumour on her skin, which she immediately had surgically removed. This was the moment she decided to turn her life around and seek help. “I had it removed and the procedure and the incident was one of the scariest experiences of my life,” Acton-Ambrose said. “Today, I only use self-tanners, no matter how annoying they are to apply; I am still able to achieve the bronzed look that I have always craved.”

Marilyn Nieboer, Laurier’s health and promotion coordinator, backed up the claim that tanning comes with more negative impacts for the body than positive outcomes. These negative side effects are often ignored.“I think that the Cancer Society has a good motto, which is ‘no tan is a good tan’,” Nieboer explained. “A lot of people want to get a base tan, but that is a myth. The truth is that every tan damages.”

Although many students know about the health risks associated with the over-use of tanning beds, a lot of students do put their own vanity over their health, not thinking about the dangerous consequences.

Since we are all still so young, we often think that even if the damages of tanning catches up with us, it won’t be until we’re much older. This is a common mistake made by first-time tanners, as the skin is damaged now.

“A lot of students tan because they are concerned about what they are going to look like in their 20s and not thinking about what they will be looking like in their 50s,” Nieboer continued. “The best advice I can give is to wear sunscreen and sunglasses. I don’t think people should be using tanning beds, period.”

So how can you get that tanned look without having to compromise your health? Thankfully, there are many options that are available and will be safer for your skin in the long run. Self-tanning lotion has become very popular and can be purchased at almost any pharmacy for a reasonable price. Spray-on tans are also an option that is not permanent and is much more affordable than the salon prices available for tanning beds.

There are other options that are accessible, and although they might not seem as simple or as easy as a tanning bed, your skin will ultimately thank you in the end.

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