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A woman and her previous self compare odd spots on their backs

Tanning: A Girl's Lesson Learned

She craved the burn

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who liked the burn--she craved it, in fact. This same young girl believed with the whole of her heart that her pale, freckled skin could turn a delicious bronze. Foolishly, she continued to pursue a tan year after year, relishing every sunburn. For as she and everyone else in the 90s knew, a sunburn turned to a suntan. The girl, and everyone else in the 90s, could not have been more wrong. They all had some hard lessons to learn.

Tanning bed lessons

Last week, simply leaning back against my couch cushions almost sent me into orbit. After three-plus weeks of spot treating my back with Efudex, I started the healing process which can be, and usually is, a miserable experience. The treated area is drying out and remains tender. It still burns at the slightest touch and periodically throbs throughout the day-such fun times. I will endure this oh-so-pleasurable feeling for several days until the dead skin has completely sloughed off. This is my first time treating my back, but I should have seen the need coming a mile away. I lost track years ago of the number of sunburns I had on my back from laying out and from tanning beds over the years.

Something had been nagging at me for the last three weeks. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until that day on the couch. There was something incredibly familiar about the stinging I felt on my back when I made that brief second of contact with the couch. Of the three areas I am treating, two are at the top of my shoulders, and the third is at the base of my shoulder blade--the very tip of it.

Back-burning flashbacks

That evening as I applied moisturizer to the flaming skin, it hit me. When I laid in tanning beds from 1992-2007, I had these odd white spots on my back where my shoulder blades made direct contact with the fiberglass of the beds. Those weird white patches would tingle and burn, but they never tanned or seemed to redden like the rest of my back. From the moment I began using beds in the spring until late fall when I had to make myself stop tanning, I kept these two strange white, tingling spots. Here I am 12 years after having given up tanning, applying a topical chemotherapy cream to one of the very pressure points that made repeated contact with the tanning bed mere inches from the ultraviolet bulbs. Coincidence? I think not. Ironic? Probably.

Where I once felt the sharp pinching pain in my shoulder blades in the hours following a tanning bed session, I now have actinic keratoses. In the same area I had a white patch of skin that never seemed to take on a tan, I'm pampering painful sores that require constant moisturizing as they heal from the effects of Efudex. I hurt then and loved it; today I am hurting in the same spot and mad as the devil when I think about the satisfaction I once felt upon feeling the sting from the tanning bed.

She will live smarter

The girl is no longer young, and her lessons have been difficult indeed. She learned there is no difference in a sunburn and a suntan, and wanting both could have killed her. A new word has been added to her vocabulary, and she tells everyone who will listen all about it--the word is “sunscreen.” Beyond all else, the girl has learned that it’s no coincidence that what she purposely burned years ago is being burned again today. The girl may not live happily ever after, but she will definitely live smarter.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The 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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