Two years and a thousand comparisons to an oompa loompa later, I’ve finally come to terms with the proper way to treat my skin. I was 16 years old when I used a tanning bed for the first time. It was the beginning of March and the weather was getting warmer. I could have easily sat outside in the sun, but prom season was approaching and it seemed like the only thing to do was to allow myself to bake in a coffin-like bed for 15 minutes almost everyday. I have a naturally darker tone to my skin due to my Italian heritage, and after just a few hours in the sun I have noticeable color, yet I still felt as if I needed that so called sun-kissed glow.
The first time I ever used a tanning bed I was actually terrified. I feared I would get stuck in the bed and not be able to open it. I never once took the time to reevaluate the bigger fear that I should have had which was the possibility of skin cancer. I tanned everyday from March until prom in May of my junior year. I loved having a sun kissed glow and lying in the bed became a form of relaxation. Pre-prom baking sessions turned into unlimited monthly memberships at my town’s tanning salon through the summer and into the winter. By the time I had considered stopping my use of tanning beds, it was time for my senior year prom and the cycle began again.
At this point, I had been tanning for over a year, alternating a month on and off. Although I did not think it was at the time, I had a bit of an addiction. I thought it was silly, how could tanning be an addiction? My family would lecture me about my use of tanning beds, and anytime someone found an article or news story on the dangers of tanning, it would be forwarded to me. It got to the point where I had to hide the fact I was going to the tanning salon from my parents and tell them I was staying an extra hour at work. I would ignore what everyone said and think, “It’s never going to happen to me.”
I’m lucky enough to say that after over two years of constantly tanning that my skin is okay and no health issues have arisen, but I’m lucky. After losing my uncle to throat cancer this past year, I vowed to treat my skin the right way. I don’t want to have to see anyone in my family deal with losing a loved one to cancer again, especially a cancer that can be prevented by taking care of my skin.
I still love the look of a sun-kissed glow, and I love being tan, but there are so many other ways to achieve this look that doesn’t involve tanning under a cancerous artificial light. The truth is tanning beds are harmful. There is no statistic to prove that they have any health benefits at all. Yes, the sun itself can cause skin cancer, but while wearing the right protection, you can still get a natural tan in the sun. According to the American Cancer society, “A base tan is not a safe tan.” “Tanned skin is not healthy skin,” and “Controlled tanning is not healthy tanning.” I’ll be the first to admit that tanned skin makes me feel more confident, but achieving that is never going to be worth compromising my health.