We Asked 20-Somethings Why They Still Use Tanning Beds

The risks are well known, but that's not stopping many young men and women from soaking up UV rays.

by Helaina Hovitz
Jan 26 2017, 3:00pm

Lucky Business/Getty Images

It's no secret that there have been a number of health risks linked to using tanning beds—the CDC has called the practice unsafe, linking it to an increased risk of skin cancer, premature aging, and even blindness if you skip the eye protection. Two meta-analysis studies—one in 2012 and the other in 2014—support these conclusions. And yet, despite most of this stuff being common knowledge by now, nearly 10 million Americans continue to wriggle inside of these skin-fryers every year, according to the CDC's most recent data. Here, they explain themselves. 

Brittany Sherman, 26, Salem, Oregon

I started using tanning beds around age 14. I was on vacation in Eagle Crest, and my mom was tanning, so I wanted to go, too. Back then, you could tan underage if your parent signed a consent form. She told me, "I'm sure somewhere in the fine print it said I was a horrible parent." 

I continued to tan throughout high school because I loved having darker skin. It made me feel prettier, skinnier, and made my skin look "flawless." It always cleared up any blemishes because I felt it dried my skin out. I continue to use tanning beds today because I love the way I look with darker skin. I feel self-conscious when I'm pale, so it's definitely a confidence booster. Also it's very relaxing, it's kind of like "me time" where I can lay down and listen to music for 15 minutes and come out feeling refreshed.

I feel a lot better after I tan, almost like a "high." I'm not really as consumed with UV radiation as I should be. I've been tanning for so long, it's one of those things where you hear about people getting cancer, but you never think something like that could happen to you. It doesn't cross my mind.

Cassandra Hoblitz, 26, New York, New York

I have been using tanning beds on and off since I was about 17 years old. In college, I tanned occasionally for performances in fashion shows. After a couple of years off, I've started buying small tanning packages to use sporadically from November to January. It's counterintuitive, but I feel like I look much healthier with a light tan and feel like my skin reaches a sickly color in the winter. I also savor 12 minutes of escaping from freezing New York weather into a warm tanning bed. I'm definitely concerned about the risks. I don't want to prematurely age my skin and I definitely don't want to get skin cancer. My nerves surrounding those two factors keep me from being a regular customer.

Tanning moderately probably won't do much harm, and I'm trying to move on to self-tanners to suit my winter needs, but I wonder if the chemicals in most commercial brands truly provide the healthier alternative they claim to. 

Jordan Star, 23, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

In high school, I had a friend who wanted to bring me to her tanning salon, and I thought why not? In the grand scheme of unhealthy vices, I thought that getting a little extra color wasn't the worst possible idea. Plus, going tanning made for a pretty relaxing high school lunch break. Now, I generally feel low energy during the winter because I hate the cold. When I go the tanning salon, I have about ten minutes of alone time, where I can close my eyes, listen to music, bask in warmth—albeit artificial—and pretend that it's not eight degrees outside. It makes a pretty noticeable difference in how I feel.

There's also the physical aspect of tanning, of course. I don't buy into societal beauty standards that say being tan makes you more attractive, but for me, it's just about how I perceive myself. I've always struggled with on-and-off bad skin, and a tan helps conceal blemishes—which is a big self-confidence booster for me. I'm realistic enough to know that tanning isn't exactly the healthiest habit, but young enough to compartmentalize that rationality. 

Though I've heard a million and one stories about people who got skin cancer from tanning, I think it's one of those things where you think it will never happen to you—stupid, I know—until it does. I'm not overly concerned about the risks, but more and more people around me are. When I used to go tanning, I would have friends come with me, or people would just think it was funny. Now my friends literally yell at me if they know I'm going to the tanning salon. It's out of concern, though, so I guess I can't be too mad about it. Thanks, friends? 

Jess Gaidosh, 26, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I used spray tans before school dances and used a tanning bed for the first time when I was 16, a couple weeks before I went to prom. I hated the streaky appearance from the spray tan in a can, and it never seemed to give me a natural color—often, I'd end up in tears before the dance because I was literally orange. Today, I use tanning beds when I go to the gym. Sometimes, I go every few days during the winter and spring when I'm trying to tone up for the summer. I laugh to my friends that I'm a firm believer in "If you can't tone it, tan it," because to me, I look in the mirror and think my body looks better with a little tan. 

At the gym I go to, though, I now only use the stand-up beds because they seem to make me look less "fake" and give just a good touch of color since the maximum amount of time you can go is nine minutes, versus more than 20 in the standard beds. I know there are risks when anyone is using a tanning bed, but I guess I justify the act because I've got naturally more oily skin that doesn't burn easily in UV or regular sunlight. It probably sounds awful, but to this day, I have never used any sunscreen. My parents never really used it either, and they have never had any skin cancer scares. 

Laura, 27, Portland, Oregon

I started tanning in high school because I was on a competitive cheerleading team and one of my first jobs was at a tanning salon. I currently tan off and on through out the year, mostly during the winter I tan to help combat symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It rains and is so cloudy for much of our winter here in Oregon, so it can be hard to get any sunlight exposure. I'm not concerned about UV radiation because I know my skin type, and I avoid overexposure to UV rays, indoor or outdoor. I wear protective eyewear and wear sunscreen on a regular basis when I go outside. 

Mostly, I use indoor tanning to help get a base tan in the spring months to prepare for being out in the sun and maintain a healthy glow year round with occasional breaks. I just try not to overdo it. 

skin cancer
UV rays
tanning bed