Carole Estabrook

Patricia Krentcil, a mother from New Jersey, made national headlines last week after she was accused of bringing her 5-year-old daughter to a tanning bed.

The story received a lot of public attention after photos of Krentcil began circulating on the internet. Krentcil’s alarmingly dark skin has made her the butt of many jokes including an unflattering "Saturday Night Live" impersonation by comedian Kristin Wig.

A Connecticut toymaker is also capitalizing on the hype, releasing a “Tanorexic Mom” action figure that bears a striking resemblance to Krentcil.

For those unfamiliar with the term, tanorexia is often used to describe someone with a tanning addiction. Though not officially recognized as a medical condition, symptoms include an obsessive compulsive control over one’s tanning schedule and a distorted self-image.

Those suffering with tanorexia are typically diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder; a physiological disorder wherein the sufferer is hyper critical of their physical appearance, often to an obsessive compulsive degree.

Whether or not Krentcil is a tanning addict, the media attention has certainly opened my eyes to the dangers of over-tanning.

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The owner of City Tropics tanning salon in Nutley, N.J., where Krenticil is a regular tanner, said that the maximum exposure that clients are allowed is 12 minutes per day, five days a week.

An hour every week may not seem like a lot of UV exposure. But the UV radiation in a tanning bed is almost three times more powerful than the UV rays emitted through natural sunlight.

And while a single tanning session isn't all that harmful, the long term effects of constantly tanning include permanent eye damage, changes to the immune system, premature aging, sun spots and skin cancer.

Indoor tanning is especially risky for young teenagers because they are still growing. Hormones and adrenaline only increase the damaging effects of UV rays on skin cells, making teenagers more vulnerable to deadly skin cancers like melanoma. And while it’s true that not everyone who indoor tans will develop skin cancer; why take the risk?

I think it boils down to self-image. People often say that they feel healthier and thinner after they tan. This is largely because tanning releases opioids, which are addictive. And the media seems to glorify a bronze glow. Celebrities like Snooki and the Kardashians are never seen without a golden tan.

Whether she is found guilty or not, I hope Patricia Krenticil will step away from the tanning salon long enough to teach her daughter that true beauty is found within.

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Estabrook's column appears Mondays and she can be reached at estabrookcarole@yahoo.com