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I Was Addicted to Tanning Beds, until I Got Skin Cancer

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Now 29, Christina was addicted to tanning beds when she was diagnosed with melanoma at age 22. She's now passionate about warning others of the dangers of tanning.

By Christina Iannaccone

Just graduating college, getting engaged, buying a house, starting a new job….life was looking pretty good for me, Christina Nicole Iannaccone, felt like I was sitting on top of the world…or so I thought…

The day started just like any other day for me, but quickly that was turned around by a phone call from my dermatologist. I remember it clearly, as if it were yesterday, “Christina this is your doctor’s office, please call us back immediately regarding you biopsy results”. I listened to it 3 times, and knew the outcome didn’t sound good, so I ignored it and figured they would call back. Sure enough, few hours later, the same number showed up as a missed call on my phone, again, but yet I ignored it and erased it. In my mind avoiding the call meant nothing was wrong, so I went about on my daily routine. Went to the gym, showered, ate lunch, then to the tanning salon for my daily dose of sun…yes, you read that right: I went to the tanning salon after hearing the message. Oh, forgot to mention, yeah, my days always consisted of waking up, gym, shower, tanning salon…sometimes twice a day. Even after the biopsies I continued to go, maybe because of denial, fear or just plain addiction. I admit, I was addicted to tanning…the sun burning my skin, the hot lamps, the sweat dripping down my back…all meant I was getting darker by the minute. However, there was never an end in sight as I always felt I could be darker.

My then-fiancé would yell at me day after day to stop tanning because every time he called or asked where I was my answer was the tanning salon. To not become a regular at one particular salon, I was an “unlimited monthly member” at multiple ones so I could go to one in the morning before work, sometimes during lunch then afterward at night on my way home. If I didn’t go I felt like a part of me failed, so I would run my life according the salon hours, waiting times, etc. The summertime was even worse, as my addiction became obsessive on the weekends where I would wake up go in the morning to the tanning salon, come home, sit outside with baby oil slathered on my skin during “prime time sun time,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then go back to my nightly session at the salon. It came to a point where my fiancé and I began to argue about my behavior more and more until the point where he threatened to give my picture to local salons and tell them not to allow me to tan there, but I knew he wouldn’t, so I ignored him and continued on day to day with my tanning.

Up until the day I got that phone call, I continued to tan, and yes, I admit it, when I finally did call the doctor back, 3 days later, the first thing I did was go tanning. With those little band-aids still stuck onto my skin from the biopsy, I went tanning, with the baby oil, and remember seeing the raw skin, paper white compared with my dark tan skin. I figured nothing was wrong, I mean skin cancer/malignant was it possible?

That little area of skin has cancer? I have cancer? I walked out of the salon, mind blank, body hot, thinking I am dying…I have cancer! I just went tanning…what the heck was I thinking? Chemo, losing hair, surgery…all those thoughts flashed in my mind, but nothing scared me more than realizing I have to tell my family / friends that I have malignant melanoma from tanning bed / sun bathing.

When I got that phone call from the doctor I remember sitting on the round, glass table in the living room with my fiancé on the sofa. I listened in shock, fear, hatred toward myself, but overall sadness. I didn’t know who to tell, how to tell, so first thing I did was call my mom and cry hysterical that I have cancer…I cried and cried to her, but couldn’t turn my head to tell my fiancé, who was sitting right there on the sofa. He kept asking what, what is wrong? He heard me and yet, I couldn’t tell mother was first to know, and when I hung up with her, I was so angry with myself I screamed at my fiancé like it was his fault that I had malignant melanoma. I don’t know why, but a part of me didn’t want him to deal with this, I felt in my mind he would not love me anymore because I had cancer. However, my mother/father and sisters in my mind “have” to always love me, so telling them first was easiest, as I feared my fiancé would pack up and leave. I wish I thought differently because he was so hurt, and I know now it was wrong on my part, but fear took over my mind and I couldn’t think otherwise.

Later that day I made the necessary phone calls to all the doctors and started to schedule surgeries, tests, appointments, etc. The next few weeks/months were going to be hard, long and painful, but one thing I realized was that my fiancé was there the whole time, by my side, loving and caring for me… just like my mom, dad and sisters.

Me and my nephew. It's blurry, but there's no hiding that orange glow
It took about six surgeries, multiple hospital visits for tests/treatment/appointments, but nothing compares to the lifelong scares I have from my tanning bed addiction. I wear sunscreen every day, don’t use tanning beds anymore and practice safe sun methods, but still suffer from this deadly disease. I fight to this day to conquer melanoma, but know in my mind I am strong and someday will. I don’t want to die from a dumb addiction, but rather live.

Do you tan? Have you in the past? Why or why not?

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As was said earlier, even African-Americans need to be concerned. Report
Thanks for sharing. I hope your story keeps others from making that mistake. Report
Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine what a battle this has been for you. I am doing a health project on the harmful effects of tanning and also why there is such a need to tan among teenage girls. I have mostly found that the greatest influence comes form the media and how being tan is portrayed as "beautiful." I feel that if magazines and celebrities showed off their fair skin, it would show everyone that it is perfectly acceptable not to be tanned all year round. I definitely will not visit the tanning bed anymore after finding out about the harmful effects that go along with it. Again, thank you for sharing your story and I wish you the best of luck with everything! Report
I have used tanning beds, but maybe only every other year & only for a month. I know they say there's no such thing as a 'base tan', but it kept me from burning on my vacations. Now, I don't have the money to go tanning & don't really care about it most of the time. I try to wear sunscreen when I know I'll be outside for an extended period of time. My husband had skin cancer his sophomore year in HS & so when I had a suspicious mole, he flipped! It turned out to be nothing, but I have to take care of myself not just for me, but for him. I don't want him to have to relive it, even if through me. Report
For those that are spray tanning, you should check to make sure that you are not inhaling the spray. You never know....later on they will say that inhaling that stuff is bad (they have not proved that it is not). Everytime a new craze comes out they make it out to be safe and then later you find out that it is not. Report
Late last year, I discovered a suspicious looking spot on my chest. It was discovered to be skin cancer. I am light skinned, light haired, and light eyed which already puts me at risk. Now that I have had skin cancer, I am at an even higher risk. When I was a kid, sunscreen wasn't promoted as much as it is now and I had some bad burns. I've also done the tanning bed and laid in the sun. I now have to be more cautious and make sure my kids use sunscreen religiously. What I don't understand is how parents will let their teens use the tanning bed. What is so wrong with being pale? Report
Your story is so sad. My Mother also had Melanoma, although she did not spend a lot of time in the sun, at least not when I knew her. Her cancer was probably caused early in her life, growing up on a farm, spending many hours outside. They didn't have much in the way of sun screens way back in the 1940's & 1950's.

I am very careful with my skin. I apply sunscreen every day - at least to my face and hands. And if other skin will be showing, to those areas as well. But I regret that when I was young I did sometimes sit out in the sun. Hopefully I will be more fortunate than my Mother and not end up with this disease.

It's possible my Mother died from Melanoma, but we don't know for sure. All we know is she had a fast-growing cancer that took her life. It was so fast growing that they could never identify it. But I would not be surprised if it was the Melanoma.

My thoughts are with you! Report
I used to tan when I was younger. I have EXTREMELY PALE skin, and I admit, I just liked the feel of tanning in addition to actually getting some color.

I had a skin cancer scare after my first pregnancy, and now, i actually get mad at myself if I get lax on sunscreen and end up with some color on my arms & chest. It's JUST NOT WORTH IT to have tanned skin. I'll take pale & alive over tan & sick (or worse) any day. Report
I used to tan when I was young--like high school. In college I couldn't afford it, but I loved to lay out in the sun with tanning oil (no SPF). Now, I get my 10 min of sun a couple days a week when I go outside, to get my Vit D, and then slather on the sunblock. If we are boating, I stay in the shade and still wear my SPF30. I'm can't undo the years of damage I did to my skin, but I can try to prevent it from getting worse. Report
I have never been on a tanning bed. I grew up on a farm were we did not need to "tan" because we worked outside. We were made to wear longsleaves when working in the garden or field or driving a tractor(no cab). We also wore a cap or hat most of the time because we did not want to have blistered peeling noses. We still were pretty tanned by the end of summer. I love the outdoors when the sun is shining and not burning hot. I have a concern of skin cancer but have been very fortuniate. I am a breast cancer surviver and think God everyday. Report
i was also a sun worshiper for the longest time, and until i became an esthetician, i really didn't pay attention to all the warnings...about a year ago, i was diagnosed with skin cancer, this after NOT tanning at all for years, quite the eye opener i have to say...i really wish people would stay out of the tanning booths, but, you have to follow your own path.... Report
I went to a salon once, years ago, when we lived in upstate NY and were getting ready for a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. My cousin and I went, to "prepare" ourselves for the southern sun.
I was also a sun worshipper as a teenager, lying out in the sun with my best friend. Now, we live in AZ and I have had 3 different areas of basal cell Ca removed from my face, one the same spot that came back. I order sunscreen on-line, recommended by a dermatologist. I see dermatology once a year, and he goes over my skin very thoroughly. If I knew then what I know now that I am wiser and older.... Report
I've never been to a tanning salon, but I have "tanned" out doors. I'm not out in the sun all that much, but I always make sure I use sunscreen because sunburns are not fun, and I'm concerned about cancer. Report
I think you are a story over having overdone your tanning. I use to get a tan, but I never used a tanning bed. I went to the beach, but made sure I didn't get to much sun, since the first time I went to Key West, Florida back in 1970, I got a horrible burn after being out for just 20 minutes in April when it was so cool outside. Made me learn the power of the sun. Now I don't go to the beach until after 2 PM or before 10 a.m. Report
I also forgot to mention, I have a very low vitamin D level and the tanning helps me with that along with a 50,000iu D vitamin I have to take. The tanning helps more than the vitamin does. I'm sure there are a lot of people who have this and only tan every so often. Report
I admitt I tan, but my god I would never go to tan more than once in a day and usually I only go every other day. Tanning 3 times in one day is just down right crazy! WOW! Report
For me, I'm trying hard NOT to tan, perhaps because the Asian culture here is more to getting fairer skin like the Caucasion people, hehe. But according to one of the expat, my skin is already naturally tan so there's nothing else to do about it. Anyhow, I think getting the skin tan or brighten with those articial products usually causes more negative effects than positive. Report
I must admit, I am tanning right now. I started a couple of weeks ago, and go 2 to 3 times a week. I am taking a trip to the Bahamas, and am tanning for that. I realize tanning beds aren't all that safe, but the girl above was using them to the extreme. Once I go to the island and come back, I stop tanning altogether and wear a lot of sunblock, to sit outside. I also get my skin checked by a dermatologist, each year. I also wear sunblock when I am on the island as well.. I must admit tanning has done a bit of a number on my skin..I always cover my face with 2 towels. Report
Moderation is the key. I can't help but get a tan. I brown up so easy. I did tanning beds several years ago when I went to Hawaii. It was actually the smart thing to do, as the rest of the family all burned horribly. My doctor even recommended it as a possibility for treating my SAD. In moderation of course. Report
I've always worked for my family's survival and have been lucky enough to have office jobs that MAY have protected me from the sun so far--I never thought about spending my hard-earned dinero for a tan. What I do worry about is what may have happened to my lungs because my parents both smoked daily and on many occasions our small house would be filled with cigarette smoke clouds--thank goodness, none of us turned out to be smokers (yuck!) or drinkers (no dough!). Report
I was born in the first half of the last century and grew up in Southern California. As a young boy, I was never NOT tan, except for the year I fought Polio. At a nice cool 76-78, being outside in the sun was not ever uncomfortable. I am so white I am almost blue, my ancestors have mostly been from England (63 of 64 of my great-great-greats, with one being Native American). I have had first degree sunburns, but only if I have spent more hours inside than out. One Spring, my brother and I got a job mowing the lawn of an apartment complex, and with only one power (but push) mower, it took us all day to get it done. I had a 1st degree burn, but my 3 year younger brother had 2nd degree burns. A week or 10 days later, we went to go swimming, and after about a half hour we got our to have a cold glass of water. The rubbing of my brothers swimming trunks had been enough to break the dead skin around his legs and the water had gotten all the way to his ankles. When he got out of the pool he looked like he was wearing baggy hose. He has had a number of pre-cancerous places removed from his body, but his mid-60's brother has not. My opinion is that like most everything else we do for, or to, our body is based on individual body types. If y'all will excuse me, I need to get some cardio in. It's a pleasant 76 degrees out - just perfect for some water aerobics and laps.

Probably the major reason I didn't use in sort of tanning lotion as a young boy is that the only advertisement for sun tan lotion was the one with the dog pulling down the bottom of a little girls bathing suit - none of that little-girly stuff for me! Report
Thank you for that heartfelt story. I hope that your story reaches and touches other people who tan. I have no doubt there are many other girls and women who tan frequently. While I'm completely against a ban on tanning beds, I'm completely FOR making sure people are aware of the dangers of tanning.
I've never used a tanning bed and I don't plan to ever use one.
Thank you again for sharing your story with us; I wish you all the best. Report
never used a bed for the very reason that I was afraid of getting burnt. Knew a girl that had fallen asleep under a lamp. It did not go well. Report
Ive never used a tanning bed and I have never been a sunbather- I've gotten burnt once when I was unemployed and working on my fence/ shed on a house I used to own. My Dad's ( and some of my Mom's) family is from Northern England and we are all naturally darker ( I think its all the agriculture in the area and genetics of course). I HATE sunscreen but I suppose I should use it - my sister in law should read this she is a year older than me and has the skin of (at LEAST) a 60 year old (sagging and stuff) YUCKO. Yes she loves her tanning beds (she is welcome to them ). Report
I wish you could get this message out to even more people. I have had skin cancer (along with majority of my family members) and I have never done the tanning booth thing. Just fair skin and growing up at the beach and lakes and skiing. I have worn sunblock since I was in my early 20's but I still got enough damage while young.
Most people dont even realize that skin cancer is the most deadly of all cancers- it is the only cancer with out any sort of cure at all, besides cutting it out. If it hits your blood stream you are gone (which it does by growing down into the sking).

I am redhead-pale and proud of it. No tanning for me! Sometimes people poke fun with comments like 'you glow in the dark' but I prefer healthy skin. Report
I've tanned on accident by swimming with no or not enough sunscreen. I've never used a tanning salon though because I see no reason. Report
I am the queen of sunblock! I even use it on my face under may makeup in the winter. I was a tanning bed addict until my aunt was diagnosed with cancer and her Oncologist told her that the tanning beds were making her worse. I cancelled my appointment for that day, cancelled my membership, and never got in another tanning bed again.
When I was a kid, we didn't have sunscreen. We had body oil that was guaranteed to make you tan faster & darker! I was outside in the Southern California sun completely unprotected for the first few years of my life. (As evidenced by my brown hair bleached blonde by the sun.)

Sounds funny, but I started to develop early and quickly went from toddler chubby to actually fat before I was 8. I didn't want to play outside because the heat hurt my head. I didn't want to be in swimsuits because I was embarrassed about my body. That's where the majority of sun exposure stopped.

In my teens, I spent most of my time indoors, but walked and had scoop-necked shirts that exposed my neck and chest (unprotected) to the sun. Since I've suffered from acne problems, I didn't wear foundation, use moisturizer or sunscreen on my face. In my twenties, my husband had a bit of a sun allergy so we did more things at night than we did during the day, but my "driving arm tan" has left myriad freckles all over my left arm that will some day be more prominent as age spots, I assume.

Now that I'm more active outside, I've started to use sunscreen. I tan pretty easily, but I'd rather have porcelain skin than be at risk for skin cancer. I still leave my hair in the sun (can't bring myself to wear a hat) because it lightens my natural highlights. I get my vitamin D, but I hope it's without the greater cancer risk!

(I am very worried about my sister & her tanning salon addiction. She still goes every once in awhile now that she's over 30, and lays out in the sun. She just quit smoking, but has all of the dangerous risks to getting some kind of melanoma!) Report
I know that even dark skinned African American should use sun screen, we too, get skin cancer Report
I am so sorry this happened to you, but thanks for being compassionate enough to share important lessons that can help others. One important point made here is that melanoma doesn't always emerge as obviously as the big, black irregular mole. I know one other person whose melanoma started as a white lesion. Skin cancers of all kinds are very common here in the sunny South, and I know someone else whose skin melanomas were so minor they were totally overlooked until the cancer was first detected in x-rays of her painful bones when the disease was in an advanced stage. I hate the bother and expense of skin biopsies, but they are needed for any suspicious lesion, not just the black ones. Report
I have never been a sun worshipper... I knew a girl in high school who was so proud of her tan and she used crisco on her skin... crisco! I always found laying out boring, hot, and pointless, can't even read since the sun reflecting off the book is too bright. I should use sunscreen more often, but if I know I'm going to be out a long time I definitely do. Report
I love to be outdoors, but I don't "lie out" to get a tan. If I'm at a beach (which is rare, b/c my husband is a redhead and we have two red-headed kids and they all HATE being at the beach b/c all they do is burn, even with sunblock, hats, and Tshirts on), I'm rarely sitting in the sun. Usually I'm walking along the beach, in the water or in the shade. I am fair-skinned and burn easily (but not as bad as my husband!). I did lie out a lot as a teenager (ah, the days of Hawaiian Tropic baby oil!), but gave it up after several bad sunburns. I now see a dermatologist annually for a full body check. I have never used a tanning bed, but I do have one sister who is addicted to it. Report
It doesn't require a tanning bed. I grew up in Texas, outside throughout the Texas summers in the 70s and 80s. I have had a bout of actinic keratosis, which is a premalignant condition. My stepsisters and I would spend the entire summer at the lake or somewhere else outside, slathered in baby oil. Ironically, I'm the darkest of the three of us (I'm Italian descent, they are Scotch/Irish) and I'm the one who is dealing with the skin cancer scare. Report
My chiropractor said she just read an article published in a wellness book, that tanning beds can provide the much needed Vitamin D that so many people lack, from not enough time outside. (either due to weather or some other reason). In moderation, it can help supply the body which as we know helps in lowering blood pressure, and so much more. I think the key to anything is moderation...twice a day isn't something MOST salons would allow!! And they recommend a break. The body is such a work of art, we need to know that all it may need is a little 'nudge', and not a complete makeover. Report
Don't blame tanning salons. There are guidelines on how to use them safely, but these are too often ignored for the sake of vanity. Using them daily is extremely unhealthy, using them more than once a day is really asking for trouble.
The salon I use has a skin tester which allows you to see how much time you should have on which bed to tan safely according to your skin type. I suffer from firomyalgia and live in Northern Europe which means that I don't produce enough vitamin D for most of the year which impacts on my health. Through the winter months I used a bed once a week to once a fortnight at a low to moderate timing. This gave a me a subtle golden tan - not dark, quite natural looking, just not winter grey I usually am. I felt relaxed and energised after, but did not even consider that I should be on it every day or aim to be dark skinned (or even have an obvious tan). The salon is a tool which if used correctly is safe and can help people with certain conditions and can help maintain health at times when there is not enough sun available. It can also be used to get a slight pre-tan to help prevent burning on holiday etc. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater because some people indulge in unhealthy and extreme behaviour and suffer the consequences. Or why not ban vitamin and mineral supplements because some people overdose? People really must learn to engage brains. We must not become UV phobic, just UV sensible.
BTW, the use of lotions has been shown to encourage longer sun exposure which has resulted in a rise in melanomas as people don't read instructions properly there either. Report
I'm of an age that as soon as the weather was warm enough we were out tanning and don't forget the baby oil. We did not have sunscreens zinc on the nose that was it for us, sunscreens came out when my kids were fairly young. I was a lucky one with as much time as I spend in the sun my skin did just fine. Report
Unlike when many of us were young, we now have sunscreens and information that can help our children avoid many of these issues. Report
how frightening. Tanning beds should be banned. Report
I remember the days when a "healthy" tan was encouraged. I always hated just laying around in the hot sun but put me near water, and I was in it, then out so the "sun could dry me", then back in. Had so many burns on my chest (think blisters) and then back the next day. After all the lifeguard was sooo cute. Well, now I have brown spots and am constantly watching to make sure they don't "change".

I tried a tanning bed twice but each time, my skin would itch terribly so I stopped that.

For those of you who feel you need a little color, there are so many products out there that can add a glow that will last a few days and look natural. I just bought one yesterday that goes on with a brush so I can even do my face without making the two large age spots darker. IT's great and doesn't come off on the skin. Wish I'd had it yr. ago when I was getting my "healthy tans". Report
"I have three choices: vampire white, tomato red, or oompa-loompa orange and smeary from tanning lotions. I've never gone to a tanning bed..." That's just way too funny.

I don't understand the desire to be tan...too doggone hot to sit in the sun or under lamps. Just seems uncomfortable...accept you for who you are, it takes less time and is so much easier on the budget... Report
After reading many of the comments here, as someone who has had a stage 2 melanoma, I feel I must reply. I burned frequently as a child, but never went to tanning salons as an adult and have used sunscreen for many years. While melanoma on my face led to surgery that took a large part of my face away, I am more concerned about those who think if they protect their face it will help. Melanomas on the arms and legs are very often deadly. And once melanoma spreads to other parts of your body (organs), it is always deadly. While I don't believe the govt. should control what we do, I do wish tanning salons would just fail due to a lack of business. Report
The hardest thing for me to give up when I found out I was pregnant was the tanning bed. Now that I'm 30 weeks pregnant I look at all the wasted time and weekends where I planned events around the sun. When he arrives in August I know I'll be busy with him, but I won't ever have a tanning bed membership again. Report
i too had a melanoma on my face but i am addicted to spf and have been for like 30y but the damage was probably done when i was a kid. my derm had great skills so you can barely see my scar but the traumatic scar is there. get checked! Report
I am a tanning makes me feel soooo good...the warmth and heat! I had skin cancer several years ago but it was removed with surgery I'm not renewing with my tanning salon, This article reminds me how important it is to take care of your skin! No more ultraviolet lights for me! Report
I grew up in the days when tanning was BIG. I was not one to lay on the beach in the sun, as my girlfriend did. Last I saw her, she had LEATHER skin...awful. However, though I have not been into the sun or tanning salons, I still suffer with brown spots on my skin from sun damage. Two I have had for years, fighting them, and found something that seems to be working, but takes so long to work. Living in Arizona, one has to constantly wear sun screen , yet still many come down with skin cancer....

I don't because I am a chocolate-skinned African American :). I have never gotten the obsession with being an odd shade of orange. I can see a healthy glow, but when you are sacrificing your health it seems like it just makes sense to be thankful for what God gave you no matter what shade that is: alabaster white to deep dark onyx.

Much support to those who are truly addicted to this, it's serious just like any other addiction. Report
I am white. I have been asked if I am an albino, or if I have some sort of disease that causes white skin, my nickname growing up was 'Snow White'. I have been pressured by friends, acquaintences, and strangers to go tanning (luckily not my family) and have never gone, why? I look at a tanning bed and get instant flashbacks to the time I got second degree burns on my ears from the sun when I was EIGHT. Since then I am armed and dangerous with sunBLOCK and slather that stuff on every 30 minutes I'm outdoors. I have to say that I'm sickened by the tanning fad and how it destroys the skin and doesn't even look good. I hope that we someday return to white skin being fashionable and try to further that day by strutting my gorgeously reflective white legs without shame. :) Report
My sister got a scare when after one season of tanning salons she got a cancer scare. Luckily she did not have cancer but the doctor told her that it was only a matter of time before it wouldn't be a scare but the real deal...cancer. That cured her of tanning beds. She also noticed that the sun also aged her more than she cared for in that one season of tanning. Thankfully I never got the tanning bug. The one time I went to a tanning salon I laid there thinking about all the things I had to do and felt like I was wasting my time, never went back. I am light complected and will always be, I don't tan easily, and that's fine with me! Report