The Cost of Tanning
- Paris Tippett, 25, began using tanning beds twice a week last year when COVID lockdown ended. After a few months tanning at this rate, she was diagnosed with melanoma.
- The mother of one had been using her tanning sessions to try to ward off winter depression, but she was stunned and terrified by her diagnosis. Now, she’s sharing her story so that others can make better decisions about taking care of themselves and avoiding skin cancer.
- Sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer, and tanning beds use high-intensity lamps that increase the risk of developing skin cancer even more dramatically.
The mother of one has tanned periodically since she was 18-years-old, but this past year, she kicked it into high gear. When one lockdown ended and Tippett didn’t know when another might begin, she felt pressure to take advantage of the sunbeds while she could. She made a habit of visiting the tanning salon twice a week, staying in the sunbed for up to 14 minutes at a time.Read More
But after four months of tanning consistently, a masseuse noticed a small freckle on Tippett’s shin. Telling herself she had nothing to worry about, Tippett continued tanning regularly for a few weeks before visiting her doctor and getting a biopsy.
“Waiting a couple of weeks for the results to come back was just hell. I wasn’t myself, I was all over the place. I couldn’t focus on work, I couldn’t concentrate at the gym—I would just go and sit there,” she said. Two weeks after her initial visit, Tippett learned that she had skin cancer.
“When the doctor told me it was melanoma, a vicious one, I just sat there and was beside myself. I just cried and said, ‘Is this terminal?’” she told Daily Mail. Reflecting on the surreal stress of being diagnosed with cancer, Tippett said, “It was like I’d been put in someone else’s life—I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Stunned by the diagnosis, Tippett vowed that tanning salons were a part of her past. Three weeks later, she underwent surgery. “It was a really difficult time,” she said. “They removed lymph nodes from my right groin and removed quite a wide area, going down to the bone in my shin, to make sure it hadn’t spread.”
Weeks later, when Tippett was told she was cancer free, she felt like she had won the lottery. Now, she wants to use her story to spread one simple message: “It’s not worth it.”
For Tippet, “It’ll be fake tan only from now on.”
People who go to tanning salons significantly increase their risk of developing melanoma.
Melanoma is a skin cancer that starts in the cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. “Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist at Weill Cornel Medicine.
Melanoma can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin, even in parts of the body that never see the sun.
Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to keep an eye out for melanoma. Discovering changes to an existing mole or a new growth on your skin can be signs of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts. Spots on your skin can be harmless, but it is important to monitor them and contact your doctor if you find cause for concern.
Doing regular skin checks on yourself is important for early detection of melanoma, especially if you are at high-risk.
The Risks of Tanning Salons
“Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer,” says Dr. Lynn A. Cornelius, chief of the Division of Dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It also induces changes that lead to premature aging of the skin. There is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
Just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent and squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And a study published recently in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, suggests that banning tanning beds among minors would prevent thousands of cases of melanoma in adolescents, along with millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
Although tanning bed use has declined in the past decade among all age groups, there are still millions of adolescents and adults in the United States that use them. In 2017, the most recent year for which the National Cancer Institute has statistics, an estimated 5.6 percent of adolescents used an indoor tanning device at least once during the previous year, and about 6 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 used a tanning bed at least once. The percentages drop significantly among older age groups.
For most people, there are simple ways to significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
Tanning Beds vs. Sun Exposure
While the risks of unprotected sun exposure receive plenty of air time, there has been much less public education about the more harmful exposure to cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that shines through the clear acrylic shields in tanning beds.
“For the same amount of time spent in the sun, the current ‘bronzing’ tanning beds can expose an individual to several times the radiation that one would incur for the same amount of sun exposure,” Dr. Cornelius tells SurvivorNet. “These lamps are high intensity.”
UVR consists of different wavelengths: UVC, UVB and UVA. The latter two–UVB and UVA–are the predominant damaging wavelengths that filter through the atmosphere to the earth. According to Dr. Cornelius, older tanning beds primarily emitted UVB (the shorter wavelength UVR) while current models emit the longer wavelength UVA that penetrates deeper into the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer.
Dr. Cornelius adds that while the body has mechanisms to repair DNA damage, repeated exposure, or a high amount of exposure, can overwhelm the body’s reparative mechanisms and repair does not occur. “A mutation that is not repaired can cause unrestricted growth of the mutated cell, and ultimately cancer,” she says. “To this point, we see multiple patients in their 20s and 30s with melanoma and basal cell cancers who used tanning beds in their teens.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff