A woman lifts off her goggles inside a tanning bed.

Tanning: Eyes Wide Shut

My teenagers know everything. I mean, when you think about it, we knew it all, too. There was nothing you could tell us as teens. Adults weren’t cool and didn’t have a clue about life. What did they know about eating right, getting enough sleep, and saving money? I mean, really. As much as I hate to admit it, I was the same way. That teenage invincibility - it’s a disease of sorts.

Ignoring the tanning bed goggles

One of the things about which I was convinced I knew better was that pesky warning about wearing goggles in the tanning bed. It’s time to fess up. Despite the salon’s rule about using/bringing goggles and wearing them during sessions, I tanned without them. Strongly worded warnings prominently posted in the salon and notes literally attached to the sign-in sheets with baskets of sanitized goggles next to them still only succeeded in forcing me to pick up a pair. No one could tell me to put them on. No one.

Tanning beds and eye damage

As a headstrong teen and then vain adult who was more concerned with an even tan, I continued to look quickly past the fine print so I didn’t have to see there was actual evidence that UV rays could damage my eyesight. Who believes that at the tender age of 21? More important to me at the time was not having unsightly rings around my eyes. No amount of concealer or cleverly applied makeup could disguise those hideous oval white ocular nightmares. Keeping my eyes closed would achieve the same thing - that from my young adult, tanning-addicted mind. Ha.

What is the danger of UV ray exposure for your eyes?

What resulted from my own misguided confidence was more than a decade of tanning in salons without the recommended eye protection. Vows to myself to keep my eyes closed while the bed was running (laughable now that I see it in print) turned into countless visits in which I opened my eyes throughout the visit to see how my tan was coming along - checking the contrast between my exposed skin and the skin beneath the little palm tree sticker applied to my stomach. I opened my eyes to check the time. I even opened my eyes when I sensed that a bulb might be flickering. Yes, to look AT the bulbs themselves. Teenage invincibility at its finest right there, folks.

Premature aging and wrinkles

All of those super smart choices have landed me here. Firstly, and the least important of the three, is the increased number of wrinkles under and around my eyes. I blasted the tender skin around my eyes for years through multiple visits weekly and pay for it now as I struggle to hide premature aging. We will all fight that battle sooner or later, but tanning bed shenanigans secure a spot for you in the “sooner” category.

Risk of ocular melanoma

Secondly, cancer checks are now part of my eye exams. My ophthalmologist regularly checks my eyes for signs of melanoma. I was warned about this, was I not? Wasn’t teenage me told in bold, straightforward print and by way of baskets of goggles that this could be my future? We already know the answer, and that’s water under the bridge. I, and many others just like me, have set the tone for the rest of our lives by ignoring warnings, believing we know best, and seeing ourselves as untouchable.

Risk of basal cell carcinoma

Lastly, I have increased my chances of developing other skin cancers in the areas I exposed to the UV rays of the tanning bed. Recently, at the age of 46, I had a second biopsy just below my eye. Both times, my dermatologist was suspicious of basal cell carcinoma. The tender skin beneath my eyes went unprotected and is just as vulnerable to developing skin cancer even though I stopped tanning over 13 years ago. But what did adults know, right?

Take a lesson from my book

If you are under the age of 21 and reading this, take a page from the skin-cancer-ridden book that is my life. Heed the research, listen to the adults, and learn from our mistakes. I should have worn the stinkin’ goggles. Let’s be real. I should have kept my happy self out of the tanning bed altogether, grabbed a book, and parked myself in a shady spot instead. We are out here ahead of you for a reason - going through life, smoothing over the rough spots, and putting up warning signs for you as we go. Do yourself a favor and pay attention - we know what’s up.

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