Man with tanning goggles on, with light skin and progressively skin gets darker

The Trouble with Tanning

When I was in my early 20s, I was working as a local pizza delivery guy. As much fun as it was to bring people their favorite dinner in a box (is anyone ever sad to see a pizza delivery person?), it wasn’t a job that offered health insurance or a living wage.

My psoriasis was at its worst during this time, covering me nearly from head to toe. I used to joke (mostly to myself) that I had more crust than the pizza I was slinging.

Making the decision to tan

So what does a guy with no insurance and little discretionary income do to control his out-of-control skin? Tanning beds.

I went to a place called Brown-N-Serve in my hometown. A couple times a week I would strip down in a closet-sized room that had a bowl of palm tree and playboy bunny stickers next to the giant glowing clamshell bed. I will never forget the smell of the place. If you’ve been to a tanning establishment, you will know exactly what I am talking about. It’s kind of a combination of artificial coconut and burnt skin.

What are the tanning risks?

This thinned my plaques out enough that I wasn’t unintentionally sprinkling customer’s food with “parmesan cheese”, but it still never made my red spots completely go away. I did this for about 5-6 months.

At that point, a family member found out what I had been doing and bluntly told me I was, well, not very wise for tanning. My grandfather had died of melanoma. In fact, his death was one of the main triggers of my first flare up, but for some reason, I didn’t think of the risk tanning was causing me.

Shining light on the facts

I started to do some research, initially to prove my family member wrong. I so desperately wanted to convince myself that the tanning was okay, because it was the most cost-effective way to keep my skin from piling up. Unfortunately, what I found was that it was not worth the money I was saving.

The first thing I unearthed all those years ago was the dangers of tanning beds being linked to skin cancer. I kind of knew this going in, but I thought because I lived in such a cloudy, cool area of the US, I wouldn’t be at any greater risk than those that lived in sunny places like Southern California or Arizona.

Boy was I wrong! The light that comes from tanning beds is called UVA. These are the rays that penetrate deep into your skin. Because they permeate so deep, UVA rays are the ones most responsible for cancers and also for turning your skin to leather.

How does tanning effect psoriasis?

If looking like an old boot and risking cancer wasn’t enough for me to quit, what I found out next definitely was. The tanning beds weren’t really effective for my skin in the long run. In order to control my symptoms, both UVA and UVB rays are needed. UVA is usually only effective if used in conjunction with the drug psoralen.

Furthermore, it’s a science to determine how much exposure is just enough without increasing the risks previously discussed. I realized a dermatologist was probably a much better at making this determination than the tanning salon receptionist. A doctor is also able to control where the rays are hitting.

Granted, most of my body was covered with plaques, but there was still delicate skin in between that I wanted to preserve.

Tips to reduce your risk

I was lucky enough to find a couple foundations that would help cover the cost of treatments so I could stop tanning, but I realize that isn’t an option for everyone. What I would suggest is to always use your best judgment and think long-term.

It’s really easy to get caught up in trying to find something that works for us quick, because this disease is so uncomfortable and burdensome! But trading out one horrible health problem for another isn’t a good solution.

If you don’t feel you have any other options, take some steps to protect yourself. This may include:

  • Protect unaffected skin- use clothing or sunscreen to protect areas that do not have psoriasis.
  • Wear goggles-protect your peepers by always wearing black-out tanning googles. You may look funny, but your eyes will thank you.
  • Know your skin-take note of each mole or mark on your body and monitor them. If you notice any new or changing spots, see a dermatologist right away.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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