I remember being a senior in high school and getting my first ever punch card for the only tanning bed salon in our small Midwestern town. It was prom season, and for some reason that only 18-year-old me understood, looking tan while wearing my prom dress was everything.
I remember picking out the tiny pink sunglasses, buying some tanning accelerator lotion, grabbing a couple of towels, and then blissfully crawling into what resembled a large, plastic coffin. I guess the goal for me was to get darker and darker until I looked like I’d spent my winter on the beach and not shoveling snow in the middle of nowhere South Dakota. I’m not sure my friends and I succeeded in anything besides getting some vitamin D, and oh yes, exponentially increasing our risk of getting melanoma.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer, and it can kill people. It can start out looking like a harmless little mole that changes shape and then gets larger or darker, and then it can even dive into your body and metastasize to your organs or your bones and you can die. An estimated 10,130 people people die from melanoma in the U.S. each year.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma occurs “when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.” I’d show you pictures, but I’m already seriously traumatized by the images of a woman with a hole going all the way through her nose. Search at your own risk.
At 18, I wasn’t worried about getting melanoma or holes in my nose. I was worried about getting my preferred time slot at the tanning bed because every single one of my friends had a punch card just like me.
I wasn’t worried about going to college and finding a lump in my groin and then dying at age 26 like Glenna Kohl.
I wasn’t worried about getting stage 4 melanoma at 30 and dying right after my baby was born like this young mom just did in Pennsylvania.
No. I was worried about lovely, tanned skin for one night at prom.
I was a dumbass.
Some say, oh well, tanning beds aren’t that bad. I’ve been going for years, and I’m fine. It’s just a little ultraviolet light.
But it can be that bad.
It is that bad.
One visit to the tanning salon increases your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67%. One visit. And 76% of melanoma cases among 18-to-29-year-olds can be attributed to tanning beds. Also, your risk of developing melanoma increases by 75% if you have used a tanning bed before 35. And maybe most alarming of all, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology found that “the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.” What?
I think I’ll make an appointment with my dermatologist right now. And if you’ve ever used a tanning bed, you probably should too.