A woman's shadow looms over goggles resting on a tanning bed.

Making Tanning Make Sense and the Lies That Got Me There

Let’s talk about comfort for a minute. We love what makes us feel good - our favorite book and cozy blanket, movie nights with the family, and compliments on new outfits. Feeling good just feels...good, right? This mentality also applies to understanding new and different ideas when they present themselves. It’s not as easy to feel comfortable with strange ideas and difficult topics. Many of us tend to take a hard turn when we see something new heading our way. In some cases, we might avoid it altogether. The same thing can be said in reverse.

What I don’t know won’t hurt me, right?

Sometimes, familiar things that make us feel good, happen to be the worst possible things for us and we reason long and hard to find some way - any way - to make them acceptable. I’ve done it. You may have, too. My “good” and “comfortable” was about 8 ft. by 3 ft., had multiple 200-watt bulbs, and offered the opportunity to tan my pale skin to my heart’s content. Despite all warnings posted blatantly on the top of the tanning bed, I made it fit my own narrative. It was comfortable. I wanted to use it. I manipulated the facts to fit my own needs and wrote my own fiction story designed to make me feel good.

Tanning regret and convenient little white lies I told myself

My story was composed of four things I told myself about tanning beds, and all of them were utter and complete nonsense, born out of my own desire, and based on absolutely nothing.

1. "I won’t burn because I am in control." Wrong. I got red every time I used a tanning bed. My tan was actually just a really unattractive dark red. I may not have peeled, but I was damaging my skin - burning to a crisp.

2. "Tanning beds are safer than the sun." Lie. The sun’s UV rays consist primarily of UVA, UVB, and UVC radiation.1 Tanning beds? Well, they are steadily cranking out UVA and UVB rays, according to the FDA - the rays that are the big players in causing sunburns and premature aging.2 Different? Sort of. But mostly the same.

3. "Laying in the tanning bed will give me a nice, even tan." Another lie. I wound up with white patches on my back from the pressure of my shoulder blades pressing against the fiberglass. I also had those fantastic white rings around the armpits - always classy-looking.

4. "I don’t have to worry about skin cancer if I use a tanning bed." The biggest lie of all. Admittedly, I tanned in the sun as a preteen and high school student, but the majority of my tanning attempts took place in tanning beds all the way up until my melanoma diagnosis in March of 2007. My dermatologist told me point-blank that tanning beds had dramatically increased my chances of developing the melanoma I had excised from my upper arm. Tanning is also the reason I have had multiple basal cell carcinomas and have to use Efudex on an annual basis.

Making amends through skin cancer advocacy

I conveniently created a fiction story in my head and was foolish enough, on occasion, to actually say it out loud to friends and family. There’s no telling how many people I misled with my own comforting words - words I invented so that I wasn’t forced to understand the truth about tanning beds. I didn’t want to understand it because that wouldn’t have been comfortable for me. It’s much easier to ignore what we don’t understand, and my approach to tanning is proof enough of that. I need to make amends for all the untruths I told myself and others about tanning. That’s why I am a skin cancer advocate today. Fiction is fun, but some of it’s dangerous.

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