Jun 25

Tanning Addiction: Possible Reasons and How to Recover

Do people who have a tanning addiction (sometimes now called tanorexia) just want to look more attractive?

Tanning can start out that way, of course—wanting that nice glow. But, as with other process addictions, additional contributing factors can then complicate things and turn one’s goal upside down and one’s not-unhealthy behavior into something more compulsive.

A woman who’s been studying tanning behaviors for over 10 years, psychologist Sherry Pagoto, University of Massachusetts Medical School, gives some common reasons one might overtan:

  • a desire to escape reality
  • relaxation
  • trying to cope with depression
  • getting a quick fix of endorphins

Further quoting Pagoto, Jessica Firger, Everyday Health, elaborates on the development of a tanning addiction:

‘It’s more about medicating the mood,’ said Pagoto. ‘Some people do that by overeating, some people will smoke cigarettes, some people will do that by tanning.’ She said much like drinking or smoking, tanning can start out as a social activity but then may turn into an addiction. And for many young women, the addiction is also driven by peer pressure, she said.

Overtanning can lead to health concerns and symptoms of withdrawal if deprived of UV radiation.

Robin L. Hornung, MD, MPH, and Solmaz Poorsattar, on the website SkinCancer.org, note that the addiction can be both physical and psychological in nature. Furthermore, those who have started tanning before age 13 and those who’ve tanned most frequently have the hardest time quitting it.

Tanning addiction is also sometimes part of having body dysmorphia. According to Katharine Phillips, noted expert on Body Dsymorphic Disorder, Brown University Medical School, believes one-fourth of those with BDD get involved in excessive tanning from trying to hide such perceived flaws as acne or wrinkles (USNews.com).

In addition, other types of psychiatric issues, including substance abuse and anxiety conditions, can be factors in excessive tanning behavior (Medscape).

How Do You Know If It’s a Problem For You?

A modified version of the CAGE questionnaire (commonly used to assess chemical addiction) has found that many frequent tanners meet the criteria for a “UV light substance-related disorder.”

Any yeses to the following CAGE questions may be significant, and two yeses would warrant further assessment for addiction:

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to cut down on your tanning?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your tanning?
  3. Have you ever felt style guilty  about tanning?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed to tan first thing in the morning (Eye-opener)?

How to Manage a Tanning Addiction

First off, strategies used for other addictions might be effective—having support of family and friends, for instance, or following other guidelines often prescribed in 12-step programs or therapy.

Pagoto focuses on finding healthier habits for individuals to adopt in place of tanning. As she tells Everyday Health: “The research on the benefits of both exercise and massage on mood is quite strong so we think that if we can get tanners ‘hooked’ on these behaviors, they may drift away from tanning as a way to unwind and reduce stress.”

And SkinCancer.org recommends:

  • switch to self-tanning creams and sprays
  • for endorphins, add physical exercise
  • avoid high-risk relapse situations (going with a friend to a tanning booth, for example)
Jul 12

Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Documentary “Too Ugly to Love”

Q: What is body dysmorphic disorder?

A: The leading expert in the U.S. regarding body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), psychiatrist Katharine Phillips, has written several books on this topic, including The Broken Mirror and Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

From the website of the BDD Program she directs at Rhode Island Hospital: “Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a common, often severe, and under-recognized body image disorder. People with BDD worry that something’s wrong with how they look, which causes them a lot of distress or interferes with their day-to-day life. They may describe themselves as looking ugly, unattractive, ‘not right,’ deformed, or even hideous or monstrous. People with BDD most often worry about the appearance of their skin (for example, perceived acne, scarring, skin color, lines, wrinkles), hair (for example, perceived thinning or too much body hair), or nose (for example, perceived size or shape). However, people with BDD can dislike any part of their body.”

Q: How many people have this?

A: About one in 50.

Q: What causes this?

A: It’s not known for sure, but genetics may play a part, as may childhood abuse and neglect.

Q: How is it treated?

A: A treatment approach involving therapy and/or medication has proven helpful to many sufferers.

First, though, in order to get needed help, those with the condition need to tell someone. In a 2003 interview with Nancy Wartik, New York Times, Phillips stated, “People with B.D.D. are afraid they’ll be considered vain or superficial, that they won’t be taken seriously. I’ve seen patients who have been in weekly psychotherapy for 10 years, 20 years. They never told their therapist, even though some of these people said it was the major problem they had. If, as a clinician, you don’t ask about B.D.D., you’re not likely to hear about it…”

On the issue of gender differences, it’s noted that “Women are more likely to worry about their hips and their weight, whereas men are more likely to worry about being too scrawny. Both worry about hair, but women are most likely to worry they have too much body hair; men don’t worry about that. Women are more likely than men to seek cosmetic surgery.”

Recent research by Phillips indicates that among those who have BDD, those whose issues lead to excessive dieting are at increased risk for suicide attempts.

Part One of the BBC documentary Too Ugly For Love shows several different people who have BDD— people who won’t even agree to fully reveal their faces because of how they feel about their looks.