Although the term "tanorexia" has been commonly used by the media and several doctors to describe the syndrome, both the word and syndrome have not been widely accepted by the medical community, and is considered slang by many. The term was coined after the medical condition anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight. It can be likened to the common practice of adding the suffix "-oholic" (from the term alcoholic) to the end of any action or food someone enjoys extensively and often (e.g., "choc-aholic," "golf-oholic," "shop-aholic," etc.).
Serious cases of tanorexia can be considered dangerous because many of the more popular methods of tanning (such as those mentioned above) require prolonged exposure to UV radiation, which is known to be a cause of many negative side effects, including skin cancer.
Extreme instances 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. As it is with anorexia, a person with BDD is said to show signs of a characteristic called distorted body image. In layman's terms, anorexia sufferers commonly believe they are overweight, many times claiming they see themselves as "fat," when in reality, they are nutritionally underweight and physically much thinner than the average person. In the same way, 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.
Neither tanning addiction nor tanorexia are covered under the latest edition of the DSM-IV, though they are most likely versions of similar problems already on record. To that end, a 2005 article in The Archives of Dermatology presents a case for UV light tanning addiction to be viewed as a type of substance abuse disorder.