How far would you go to achieve the perfect tan? People are so determined to look bronzed that they’re lying on salon sunbeds multiple times a week.
Doing this makes them more vulnerable to skin cancer as they regularly subject themselves to harmful UV rays.
And worryingly, some are even risking illegal tanning injections in order to darken their skin tone.
BBC Three lifted the lid on these dangerous trends in new documentary Tanorama.
They spoke to Northern Irish women who have ignored health concerns in pursuit of a golden glow.
Lauren said she’s been fascinated with tanning since she was a child.
She revealed: “When I was younger my mum used to use the sunbeds constantly and I’d always go with her.
“I’d sit on the wee chair by the sunbed when I was younger – so it was always something that I thought ‘I can’t wait to do that’.
Then when she got old enough to hit the salon on her own, the 22-year-old started tanning regularly.
She admitted: “At one point I was using the sunbed every day for like 10 minutes a day.”
The mum, who had a baby three months ago, admits she’s gone overboard with her bronzed look in the past.
She said: “At this moment in time I’m tanned but usually I’m maybe like a different race kind of colour.
“I would go to school and my friends would go ‘oh my god, you are proper black’.
“And I used to go ‘do you think so?’
“It starts to go to your head a wee bit where you feel like you need one.
“So if I was going for a night out I would never go without having a sunbed that morning or the night before.”
As well as hitting sunbeds regularly, Lauren has experimented with illegal tanning injections.
These are unregulated so can lead to dangerous side-effects – but this doesn’t deter beauty obsessives from trying them.
Lauren explained: “It’s like when you’re training some people might want to use steroids to make their muscles grow quicker.
“Same way when you’re using a sunbed you may want to use an enhancement like a tanning injection…
“Whenever I used to take them my face used to flare up really red. I found that I got kidney infections a lot when I was using them.
“That’s because you don’t know exactly what’s in them – but they make you tanned so you don’t care!”
Despite these worrying side-effects, Lauren says sunbeds are “essential in her everyday life”.
She said: “It becomes addictive.
“Obviously there’s things you’ve got to be careful of – like when you’re using them too much – but when you’re tanned, you don’t really care.
"It’s terrible but it’s true.”
BBC Three also spoke to Tracey, who has been using sunbeds for more than 20 years.
The mum-of-six, who manages her local tanning shop, admits her extreme glow has looked “ridiculous” in the past.
She said: “I started tanning way back when I was 18 or 19. I’m naturally very, very pale so I’d get some colour on me.
“I like a bit of a glow so sometimes I’d go a bit heavier and be a lot darker.
“I’ve been tan shamed a couple of times in front of the mirror.
“I have seen photographs of me before and thought ‘it’s ridiculous’ but at the time I didn’t think it was dark.
“But there are times I’ve looked back and thought ‘oh my God’."
Are sunbeds safe?
Sunbeds give out ultraviolet (UV) rays that increase your risk of developing skin cancer (both malignant melanoma and non-melanoma).
Many sunbeds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun.
The risks are greater for young people. Evidence shows:
- people who are frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life
- sunburn in childhood can greatly increase the risk of developing skin cancer later in life
UV rays can also damage your eyes, causing problems such as irritation, conjunctivitis or cataracts, particularly if you do not wear goggles.
Tracey continued: “I’ve been known to go out on a Saturday night and maybe have two or three sunbeds in different shops on the same day.
“It’s not recommended because you just roast. Absolutely roast.
“It becomes an addiction but it’s a nice addiction – you know, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink but I enjoy a sunbed.
“I finish work and the first thing I do is have time on the sunbed for 10 minutes or so.
“It’s a wee mini break before all the chaos. Four times a week…
“I’ve probably had thousands of sunbeds over the years, which is hundreds and hundreds of hours.”
Just like Lauren, Tracey has dabbled with illegal bronzing methods too.
She said: “I have used tanning injections and I have used nasal sprays.
“I didn’t have a great experience with the tanning injections because unfortunately they made me very sick.”
This isn’t the only concerning impact that’s been sparked by her love for sunbeds.
When the mum went to the Belfast Skin Clinic to get herself checked out by a dermatologist, she was left in tears when they warned her about her skin cancer risk.
In total, they found 33 questionable moles on her body and two had to be removed.
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This concerning diagnosis has kept Tracey off the sunbeds for now – but it’s unlikely others will be deterred after hearing her horror story.
The mum admitted: “I love my sunbeds and I love to sit in the sun but I am going to have to re-think things.
“Is this why I’ve got problems now with my skin? Is this the reason why I’m going to have parts of my body cut away?
“That’s reality. My priority is my health rather than the colour of me.
“People would say to me ‘you’re going to have skin cancer’ but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you.
“You don’t think it’s going to be a problem until you’re faced with it.”
Catch up with True North, Tanorama on iPlayer here.
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