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Patricia Krentcil, 'Tanning Mom,' Bringing Attention To 'Tanorexia': How Dangerous Is It?

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Patricia Krentcil, the New Jersey mom who is accused of letting her 5-year-old daughter go in a tanning booth, is pleading not guilty to the charges, according to news reports.

"My client is 150 percent innocent," Krentcil's attorney, John D. Caruso, told CBS News. "That child was never in that tanning booth."

The case is prompting new attention to "tanorexia" -- an addiction to tanning -- that some speculate Krentcil, 44, may have, ABC News reported. The owner of the tanning salon that Krentcil reportedly frequented said that the mom tanned about 20 times a month, and about five days a week.

Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, of Mount Sinai Medical Center, explained the situation to the the New York Daily News:

Going to a tanning salon 20 times a month, frankly, is insane, especially with all of the public education and awareness campaigns on the dangers of tanning beds and skin cancers. It may be she has an addiction to tanning, which actually now has a name — tanorexia. She may need help to treat not only the damage to her skin, but also what is going on with her psychologically.

When a person tans, the skin undergoes cell damage from ultraviolet radiation (whether from the sun, or from a tanning bed). This radiation can lead to skin cancer, not to mention physical effects like wrinkles and brown spots, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reported that indoor tanning is extremely dangerous, with indoor tanners having a 74 percent increased risk of developing melanoma, compared with people who've never set foot in an indoor tanning machine.

Tanning can actually be addictive, in that it produces brain chemicals called endorphins that provoke feelings of happiness, WebMD explained. The web publication cited a Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center study, showing that when these endorphins are blocked in people who frequently tan, they actually experience feelings of withdrawal like shakes and nausea.

"Addicts live in constant fear of fading," Dr. Amy Wechsler, New York-based dermatologist and psychiatrist, told WebMD. "Suddenly they feel fatter, older, even sicker. It explains the extremes they go to to keep it up."

TIME reported on a 2010 study in the journal Archives of Dermatology, which explored the link between tanning and addiction. The researchers found that every single one of the college students they surveyed who reported themselves as heavy tanning bed users knew about the skin cancer risks from tanning, yet 98 percent of them said that the knowledge of those risks didn't stop them from tanning.

"If tanning results in relaxation and reduced anxiety, this behavior would tend to be repeated -- similar to meditation or yoga for other people," Dr. Thomas Weigel, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, told TIME, adding, "there is logic to the correlation between 'tanning addiction' and anxiety."

For more on Krentcil's case, watch the ABC News video above.

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