Baking Your Skin To A Crisp Is Not Cute — It's Dangerous

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Woman in underwear illustration
Scary Mommy and CSA Images/Getty

We need to have a chat about tanning. I guess I knew that people are still purposely subjecting themselves to UV exposure for the sole purpose of darkening their skin. I’ve just been a pale, sunscreen-loving, hang-out-in-the-shade kind of gal for so long that I had almost forgotten.

My summertime Instagram feed has provided a stark reminder. I can’t even count the number of ads coming across my social media feeds for products designed to make your tan deeper or more intense.

Everywhere I turn, I see images of shiny, browned legs baking in the sun, bottles of suntan oil tossed casually in the corner of the photo. (I’m not going to gloss over the fact that many of these are taken on crowded beaches. Hello? Pandemic. Knock that shit off.)

I don’t know why we are still doing this — tanning is pretty dangerous, y’all.

I admit I did some stupid tanning-related things in my teens a few times. Who didn’t? But I’ve learned a thing or two since then. Nobody in my adult life has ever described my summertime skin as bronze or glowy or golden. Genetics gave me skin that tans easily, but I choose to keep my natural skintone year-round.

I’m not the only one who keeps it pasty around here. My kids inherited my blond husband’s fair skin, and I am serious about protecting every one of us. I’m really careful about sun exposure for my entire family. We might be pale even in July, but we are doing our very best to keep our skin healthy.

I know that we are all pretty conditioned to the idea that pale skin looks nicer with a “healthy glow” from sun exposure, but the reality is that using UV—from the sun or a tanning bed—specifically to get browner skin is actually not healthy at all. Of course, we should enjoy the sunshine and spend time outdoors in the fresh air, but we should also respect what UV can do to our skin and be smart and safe.

As we all know by now, tanning is a great way to get yourself a deep, rich skin tone—and a nasty case of skin cancer.

There are a zillion types of skin cancer. None of them are good news, but malignant melanoma is especially dangerous, and it’s linked in many cases to sun exposure.

You might have read about Bethany Greenway on Scary Mommy a couple summers ago. She had to have a pretty significant part of her face removed as a result of melanoma. She chose to share photos of her journey through the melanoma process. They are difficult to look at—so imagine how much more difficult it was to live it.

Greenway’s message after her ordeal was clear: “Please stop sun bathing and going to tanning salons. A tan isn’t a healthy glow — it’s damaged skin.”

If you missed Bethany’s story, you might remember our article about Mallory Lubbock, who had to have a cancerous spot removed from her upper lip due to tanning bed usage.

“Is tan skin REALLY worth it?” she asks. “This will scar, and this HURT. I am now the mom at the beach with the umbrella, and my spf 100 HEAVILY applied. Never, ever, ever did I think this would happen to me (who does?)”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my eyebrows and mustache waxed a time or two, and it hurts. The face is a sensitive area. Even a big zit can get a little throbby. I don’t want to imagine the pain of having a chunk of my face removed, or the terror of wondering if I would survive skin cancer.

I had a scare with an ovarian mass a few years ago, and the weeks I spent waiting for surgery and then holding my breath for test results were the scariest time of my life. My mass was benign, but the experience humbled me completely. If I can reduce my risk of skin cancer just by choosing to be unfashionably pale, sign me up. I never want to look back with regret, wondering if my bronze glow was worth it.

As scary as these stories are, these two brave women had happy endings. They caught the cancer at a time when it could be treated. They lived to warn the rest of us.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States in 2020 over 100,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed, and around 6,850 people are expected to die from the disease.

Almost seven thousand families will lose someone they love this year from melanoma. That’s scary and hard to think about. And it’s plenty of reason to avoid tanning and take care of our skin in the sun.

Tanning seems like a grown-up issue, but sun protection during childhood is so important.

According to the American Cancer Society, research suggests that melanoma is linked to intense sun exposure or sunburns as a child and teenager. “This early sun exposure may damage the DNA (genes) in skin cells called melanocytes, which starts them on a path to becoming melanoma cells many years later.” Yikes.

Chronic sun exposure throughout the course of a person’s life (like, ya know, laying in the sun or a tanning bed for long periods of time on purpose) is the second way UV is linked to melanoma. They warn, “tanning booths might help either kind of melanoma to develop.”

It’s time to toss the tanning habit out the window. Enjoy the sun with your family, but do so safely. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for everyone (regardless of skin tone!), every time you’re going to be in the sun. They also recommend relaxing in the shade, and wearing clothing that protects the portions of your skin that will be most susceptible to UV exposure.

While nobody can prevent skin cancer completely, protecting yourself from the sun and tanning bed can contribute to your chance at a full life with cancer-free skin.

Once and for all: Baking your skin to a crisp is dangerous, and not cute.

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