Confessions of a Recovering Tanning Addict
By Renata Block, MMS, PA-C
Spring is in the air. Finally! It is always a favorite time of year as people have an extra pep in their step, knowing that warmer weather will soon be upon them. I remember March as a time that I could finally layout in the sun and start getting a tan. With climate change and the temperature hardly reaching the 70s anymore this time of year, I am thankful the opportunity for sunbathing has declined in the Midwest.
Nonetheless, back in High School, I soon discovered indoor tanning! Wow, this is so awesome, I thought, I can lay in a warm bed, get my dosage of sun rays, and a glowing tan without wasting my entire day outside no matter what the weather. I became an addict, yes, I admit it.
I loved going 3-4 times a week, and March was the month to start this yearly adventure as it would carry me until Memorial Day when the beaches would be officially open. I was a genuine sun bunny and loved worshiping that golden orb in the sky. I even remember telling a stranger that I will be going to the beach forever and be wrinkly and tan. So I still have that warm fuzzy feeling of Spring vibes every year, but cringe at the thought of tanning beds or the fact that I went to the beach to get a tan. Little did I know.
Fast forward to 2020. Thank goodness I didn’t get melanoma or any other type of skin cancer such as Squamous Cell Carcinoma (usually seen with long term UV exposure), or Basal Cell Carcinoma (traditionally seen from sunburns). I am guilty of sunbathing, sunburns, long-term sun exposure, lack of SPF use until 15 years ago, and indoor tanning. A perfect combination to develop skin cancer. Worse yet, having light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair increase my risk even more.
As a Dermatology PA-C, I now know skin cancer doesn’t discriminate in age, race, or color of the skin. Skin cancer can show up anyplace you have skin such as the bottom of your foot, genitalia, and even inside your eye. Some things can increase your risks, such as the items I mentioned above as well genetics, a lower immune system, many moles (50 or more) on your body, or other factors such as sun sensitivity that can contribute to your risk. Yes, I am now that lady with the sun protection umbrella, UPF clothing, SPF, shade, and anything else I can use to protect my skin from this danger!
Since I started indoor tanning before the age of 35, my risk of developing melanoma increased to 75%! It wasn’t until 2014 that the FDA reclassified indoor tanning to warn people of the potential risk of UV exposure! Trust me, it was initiated years before this, and many States adopted the policy sooner.
I am proud to say that I was representing Illinois and went to Washington, D.C., to state my case of why the classification of tanning beds should be changed. I am not saying I single-handedly was the moving force, but I was a piece of the ginormous puzzle that was put together for Congress to take notice that change was needed. Now, most states do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to use a tanning bed without the consent of parents. The warning message is in place as you sign consents to test out the casket. Thinking back when I was 16 years old, I think my parents would have put a stop to it knowing what we know now.
Though I accept the damage already done, it is never too late to begin taking care of your skin or starting your annual skin exams and being skin savvy about the dangers of UV radiation, whether it is indoors or out. So far, no skin cancers for me! PHEW!
Diva Tip: Outdoor UV exposure consists of radiation known as UVA and UVB (other wavelengths as well). Sunlamps may contain both or only UVA, which penetrates the skin deeper and causes DNA damage!
Renata Block is the creator of Savvy Derm Diva, an online resource for proper skin care. Diva Chronicles is a monthly column discussing everything skin! Make sure you follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! MUAH!💋