"Tanorexia" could lead to skin cancer

"Tanorexia" could lead to skin cancer
By: Carly O'Keefe

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Lot's of us try to get a suntan during the summer ... but could you suffer from what's called "tanorexia?".

Many websites define it as a slang term, used to describe people who put themselves at risk of skin cancer as a result of excessive indoor or outdoor tanning.  It's based on the medical condition "anorexia."  While anorexics tend to see themselves as too thin, "tanorexics" see themselves as too pale.

It's common for teenagers to spend time in a tanning bed to get some color in the winter months or to look better in a prom dress. However Dr. Mattie White of Southern Illinois Dermatology in Murphysboro said the risk of developing malignant melanoma--the most deadly form of skin cancer-- is actually greater for folks who use tanning beds in their teens.
"When you get under the bulbs, they are much stronger than regular sun exposure.  It's ultraviolet radiation, you're radiating your skin," said Dr. White.
According to Dr. White, melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and if it's not caught early, average survival rates are not good.  But Dr. White isn't just seeing older folks with the disease.
"We have very young people with melanoma.  I personally have a patient who is 24 years old, and diagnosed with melanoma," said Dr. White.
A recent study by the Skin Cancer Foundation shows the risk of developing melanoma increases 75 percent among people who start use tanning beds in their teens and early 20's.
"If there's anyone who's done extensive tanning between the ages of 14 and 20, I'd recommend they get checked," said Dr. White.  
Brynn Slinkard works at Paradise Island Tanning in Carbondale.  She showed us what precautions tanning businesses use to protect their customers.
"These are your U.V. radiation warnings to make everyone aware of what they can and can't do," said Slinkard, pointing to framed 8 1/2" x 11 " warnings on the wall of each tanning room.
Slinkard doesn't deny there's some risk in tanning, but she keeps track of her patrons to be sure they don't over do it.
"We keep an accurate log of all the people who come in when they come in, and they're not allowed to tan more than once in a 24 hour period," Slinkard said.
She also gets to know tanners right off the bat, to create as safe an experience as possible.
"We definitely want to know your skin type, how well you tan or don't tan. That helps us and you in the long run it prevents you from burning and cuts down on the risk," said Slinkard.
According to Dr. White, everyone who uses a tanning bed or is out in the sun without sunscreen is at risk for contracting some form of skin cancer.  However, some folks with fair skinned, green eyes and red hair have an even greater risk.
Dr. White said anyone who tans regularly should be on the look out for moles that become asymmetrical, change color, shape or growing in size.  That could be a sign of skin cancer.
The only way to guarantee a 100 percent safe tan, according to Dr. White, is to go sunless.  Use store bought lotions or the spray-on tan option offered at some tanning salons.