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A woman with a skunk tail is floated in the air by the scents of summer

Smells Like Tanning Addiction to Me

Tan legs to your left. Golden brown arms to your right. Whether you’re standing in line at the grocery store or walking through a theme park with your family, you are inundated with tan lines and sun-drenched skin. July is here and, by this point in the year, tanning is in high gear. If you are a former tanner/lifelong tanning addict like me, summer your least favorite time of year.

A familiar smell

I didn’t know I was a tanning addict until I had to stop tanning–addictions are funny like that. Actually, if you want to get down to it, I didn’t know I was a full-fledged tanning addict until that first whiff of tanning lotion following my melanoma diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember feeling practically consumed by it. I felt myself being drawn toward the tanning bed like Pepe Lepew being lifted off the ground to follow the scent of his beloved Penelope.

Tanning products just kill me. The scent of coconuts, mangos, and a general feel of beach in a bottle are so much more than just appealing. For a tanning addict, these fragrances mingling around in the air are almost tangible. We feel as though we can reach out, scoop out a small handful and spread it lovingly across our arms. (Yes, I said “lovingly.” For some of us, it is exactly that bad.)

Me? Addicted?

I can tell you the exact moment I knew I was dealing with a tanning addiction. Shortly after my melanoma diagnosis in 2007, I went back to the tanning salon I used for years to cancel the remainder of my visits. Now, my mind you, I had a brand new incision on my arm about three inches in length with almost a dozen stitches holding together. The skin was tender, terribly sore, and shiny with Vaseline to keep the skin moist and pliable as it healed, and I was still reeling from the word “melanoma.” Somehow, some way, when I parted those double doors and the intoxicating fragrance of tanning accelerators hit me, I was tugged in a direction that shook me.

What was I thinking?

Where I should have been repulsed by the smell, I was revived. Where, by all rights, I should have turned tail and run, I wanted to linger in the sweet-smelling air. And where I should have given not a second’s thought to stepping into a tanning bed I stood a little too long visualizing myself doing exactly that. Days after an intense excision for malignant melanoma my dermatologist told me was more than likely due to my tanning habits, I stood frozen in place in the very place from which I needed most to run. Incredibly, I was actually considering another 20-minute visit.

Staying pale

The entire episode only lasted a matter of seconds, but it was all I needed to know I was hooked and headed for a rough road. My goal in walking into the tanning salon that spring afternoon had been to cancel my visits, and I did manage to accomplish that task. However, I walked out of that building a different person than I had been moments before entering. Giving up tanning was incredibly difficult in 2007, and facing tan skin all around me each summer is equally difficult today.

I face it daily

The appeal is still there. My own pale skin still stresses me out some days. The smell of tanning lotions knocks me for a loop every single time. When I feel like breaking and buying an accelerator, I grab a bottle of sunscreen. If I feel pale and less than my best, I remember that my tan skin was damaged. (Boy, was it ever!) Quite often, if I feel like giving up, I turn to you and tell you to embrace the pale, too. As hard as it has been, I have. If I can do it, so can you.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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