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Tanning salons are more popular than ever and when you look around, you can always spot an unnatural orange hue during the more dreary months. Tanning addiction is a rare syndrome where an individual appears to have a physical and psychological addiction.
Tanorexia is a condition in which people participate in excessive outdoor sun tanning or use other skin tanning methods to achieve a darker skin complexion because they perceive themselves as inaptly pale.

The term tanorexic (a combination of the words tanning and anorexia) has been used as slang for someone who thinks he or she can never get enough tan, similar to the medical disorder anorexia nervosa in which sufferers tend to think they can never be skinny enough. Tanorexia is different than tanning addiction, although both may fit into the same syndrome and can be considered a subset of tanning addiction.

Extreme cases may be an indication of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental disorder in which one is extremely critical of his or her physique or self-image to an obsessive and compulsive degree. A sufferer of tanorexia may believe him or herself to have a much lighter even a pale complexion when he or she is actually quite dark-skinned.

Health risks of tanorexia

More than twenty-five percent of teens and young adults show signs of obsessive tanning behavior. They tan themselves in order to look better, to relax and to feel healthy; however they end up exposing themselves to many health risks.

Up to 90 percent of the visible changes commonly attributed to premature aging and wrinkling are caused by the sun. Pre-cancerous lesions are also associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from tanning beds. Tanorexics may become dependent on the euphoria they get from tanning and are extremely frustrated when unable to be occupied with their obsession.

Melanotan – an illegal instant tan

Many women, despite warnings of possible long-term side effects, are putting their health in jeopardy by using unregulated subcutaneous injections in the region of the belly to tan their skin. Whenever in need for a quick tan, women who don’t want to go through the fuss and mess of tanning beds or spray tans have now just the thing they need.In fact, new breed of tanorexics has emerged who uses Melanotan - an illegal tanning jab to achieve a golden glow in about a week. 
Melanotan has two versions - Melanotan I and Melanotan II are the analogs of the peptide hormone alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH) that tend to induce skin tanning. Melanotan-1 (under the generic name "afamelanotide") in implant form is currently undergoing human trials in numerous countries throughout the world and has just recently been approved for human trials in the United States for the sufferers of Erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP). The more renowned version of the two is Melanotan II, also known as Barbie drug, has the additional effect of increasing libido. 

The negative effects of Melanotan

Melanotan was originally developed in America in the eighties and is a synthetic version of a natural hormone that stimulates the skin to produce more melanin, and therefore a tan. Melanotan is thus said to work by mimicking this hormone. One of the main concerns among health professionals is that the main ingredient activates melanocytes in the skin. These are the cells that become cancerous in malignant melanoma, so doctors fear users could in fact bring on skin cancer in the long term.

Melanotan has never undergone regulatory testing and no studies have been conducted to assess whether or not it can cause serious long-term side-effects such as skin malignancies. Short-term side-effects of the chemical are numerous and include depression, suppressed appetite, nausea, high blood pressure, facial flushing and panic attacks. Some women also report stabbing pain in stomach, dizziness, vomiting, crashing headache and uncontrollable spasms in the body. In spite of all these side effects, women are quite happy to ignore the risks for the sake of the all-over tan.

Also, injecting a drug in the name of vanity sounds risky enough. The worrisome fact is that Melanotan which was originally developed as a potential weapon against skin cancer in Australia is still undergoing clinical trials.

It is not illegal to either posses or use the peptides in the US and UK but it is an illegal drug to sell as a medicinal drug in these countries. FDA put forth that there is no evidence that the product is generally recognized as safe and effective for its labeled uses.  In August 2008, the Danish Medicines Agency (DMA) issued a warning against the usage of Melanotan purchased on the internet, noting that claims that imply that it is effective for protection against skin cancer, have not been documented. The DMA further warned that Melanotan has not undergone tests for its effect and possible side effects, and that it is not licensed for usage in the EU or the USA. In fact, it has never been licensed for use in any country. Consequently, people are neither sure about the safe dose of this drug nor is their information available about the long-term damage that it could be doing to the body.

Websites selling Melanotan kits acknowledge the fact that users must be fully aware about the health implications and that the product has not been tested fully for safety. Dermatologists are therefore keen to point out that the true side-effects, which could be serious, may take years to become apparent. Regulatory agencies warn that unregulated use of Melanotan may lead to an increase in the number of patients seeking medical advice about changing moles and may even confuse the diagnosis. They suggest healthcare professionals to look out for unexpected tanning as a clue to such use.