May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month!

The warning sign clearly displayed in an actual tanning booth.
The warning sign clearly displayed in an actual tanning booth.

The Darker Side of Indoor Tanning

When I was in high school, all the popular senior girls went indoor tanning. While the rest of us fair skinned kids spent the gloomy winter months slowly growing paler to the point of translucency, these popular girls seemed to become more vibrant as their skin darkened. In retrospect, I remember a lot of them actually looking pretty orange, but for some reason we still envied their non-pasty complexions.

Even when I was in high school everyone knew indoor tanning was bad for you. We all knew it caused skin cancer and made your skin leathery, saggy, and freckly when you got old. Despite the known risks, there are lots of reasons why people still go indoor tanning. For one, the American media idealizes a bronzed complexion, which subconsciously may make us do the same. Big events like Prom seem to trigger the desire to fit this tanned skin ideal. But maybe most importantly for most teenagers, tanning can help reduce acne (which almost all teenagers have) and camouflage imperfections (cellulite, for instance, and visible veins). Are there other reasons I missed?

The reality is this: it is really hard to remind ourselves of the late repercussions of tanning when the immediate result is a refreshing, glowing complexion that all admire.

So, naturally, when I wanted to be “normal” and look awesome for Prom in high school, I jumped on the tanning bed bandwagon despite being well aware of the risks. I soon realized that there are lots of things no one tells you about the indoor tanning experience:

  • The booth is skin crawlingly claustrophobic. For those with known anxiety issues, I’m sure it could cause a full blown panic attack.
  • You get really sweaty and then have to put back on your clean clothes over your sticky, smelly skin without showering first.
  • The chemicals they use to “clean” the tanning bed have a pungent smell that continues to worsen while you’re inside the booth.
  • For days afterwards you may have a bumpy, itchy rash all over your body. (Is it from the heat? From the chemicals? From both?)
The not so glamorous tanning bed...
The not so glamorous tanning bed…

Despite this experience, I still wanted to be tan for Prom, so I forced myself to go back a few more times. After the third session, the day before Prom, my chest got so burned that it started to blister. I ended up going to prom with orange skin and an oozing, crusty chest, which, looking back at pictures, couldn’t have complemented my bright pink, low cut dress any better… Thinking about it still makes my stomach turn.

The most important reason not to tan indoors is that UV exposure and getting blistering sunburns in your childhood and teenage years are known contributors to developing melanoma. Melanoma is a scary form of skin cancer, as it causes the most deaths (the other common skin cancers can usually be treated effectively).

What you may not realize:

  • Young people get melanoma. It could happen now.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer for people ages of 25-29.
  • Melanoma is the second most common cancer for people ages 15-29.
  • More and more people are being diagnosed with melanoma, making it increasingly common.

I never really worried about melanoma until I knew someone that died in her early twenties from it. As a former regular tanning bed user, she spent her last months trying to increase awareness about the dangers of tanning. To read her inspiring story, click here.

Although UV exposure has been proven to be especially harmful to children and teens, only a handful of states ban tanning bed use for minors. Some states even let kids under 14 tan if they are accompanied by a parent.
To see which states have pending legislature to ban indoor tanning booth use for minors, click here.

If you’re interested in the specific laws in your state, click here.

For more information about indoor tanning, check out the American Academy of Dermatology’s Website.

To learn more about Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection, click here.

Have you had any experiences with indoor tanning that made you never want to see a tanning salon again?

How can we learn to stop equating tanned skin with beautiful skin?

Share your story and help increase awareness about the risks of indoor tanning.