I've been seeing so many stories lately about how bad indoor sunbeds are for you. I disagree. I think people need to consider the benefits that can come from indoor tanning. For many people, the benefits of moderate indoor tanning outweighs the minimal risks. I am proof of tanning gone right, so I've decided to share my story.
In February of 2011 I had my annual medical check up. While discussing my health with my doctor, she asked if I had any idea what my vitamin D level was, and mentioned that there were many studies showing that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk to many different health problems. I told her I had no idea what my level would be, so since I was having a blood test for my thyroid, we included testing my vitamin D level while we were at it. My results came back a few weeks later; I was at 11 ng/ml. Dangerously low. My doctor stated that vitamin D can be boosted by being in the sun, but “I don't think anyone should be in the sun ever” (this raised a red flag for me, the sun is an essential part of life, how can a doctor say no sun EVER?). So she prescribed a supplement. That's what doctors do, prescribe pills. She wanted me to take 50,000 IU per week. I had a once a week pill that I had to take. However, the problem was I couldn't take it at the same time as my thyroid medication. I'm not the type of person who remembers to take pills. I forget to take it, or I take it and I forget that I took it, or I forget to take it and I think I did. I can't keep track. I am terrible with pills. The only reason I remember my thyroid medication is because it is on my nightstand and it is the first thing I see in the morning, and it happens to be the first thing I have to do every morning. Then I have to wait for an hour before eating, and 4 hours before taking any other medication or supplement. So vitamin D was very easy to forget to take. I tried for months and forgot it more often than I remembered. I switched to lower dosage pills so as to take it every day instead of once a week thinking that would help -- it didn't. I'm hopeless with that sort of thing. I kept going back to what my doctor said...something about the sun... so I started doing some research. I can get vitamin D naturally from sunshine. Well, no wonder I was deficient. I am very fair and have always struggled with sunburns. I couldn't be outdoors for more than 10-15 minutes without burning. I had a terrible burn in my late teens where I had blisters and my face was swollen so much I couldn't open my eyes. After that burn I was even more sensitive to the sun. So for years I stayed indoors, sought out shade or wore hats to protect myself. Because I was always careful to avoid the sun, my vitamin D level was so low I had to take supplements to make up for it. That didn't seem right. I did more research and found that indoor tanning could be a viable option for me.
Late February 2012 I went to a nearby tanning salon. I spoke with Katherine and she gave me a questionnaire to fill out. The result of the questionnaire was that I was a skin type 2, but a very fair skin type 2 (had I been a skin type 1, I would have been turned away. Skin type 1 would mean I would burn and they couldn't help me). We decided to take the most conservative approach to tanning. I really wasn't looking for color -- my goal was to improve my vitamin D level. I tanned for 2 minutes every other day. After a week or so I increased my time by a minute. I wasn't burning. I continued to increase my time by a minute, sometimes two, each week. I was noticing a little color in my skin after a few weeks. After about a month and a half of tanning, I participated in a 5k walk at a local park. I walked in the sunshine for an hour without burning. I had developed a base tan that protected me from sunburn better than anything else I had ever tried. I felt a freedom that I never thought possible.
I had another doctor appointment in April of 2012 and my vitamin D level results were a dramatic 75 ng/ml! I had successfully brought up my level from dangerously low to well above average. I did not take supplements regularly before starting to tan, and I took no supplements once I did start tanning. I continued to tan every other day with increased times through mid May ending at 18 minutes every 3 days. I then shifted to a more maintenance type of schedule of 15 minutes once a week, which I currently stick to for the most part. There are times when I get a bit busy and can tan once every 10 days or 2 weeks, When I have a gap like that, I bring my time down to 12 minutes. All of this at the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff at the salon I go to.
By doing this “experiment” (for lack of a better word) I have found that I can do things outdoors that I could have never done before. I have enjoyed time by the pool with my family and neighbors this summer during the day for the first time. Years past I had to wait until night to gather with friends for fear that I wouldn't be able to find a spot in the shade or under an umbrella during the day. I have done at least one 5k walk per month for the last 5 months without burning. I can go to the park with my kids -- I can do things without fear of burning. So when I see stories about how tanning causes cancer and it is something only vain shallow people would seek out, I get angry that stories like mine are not out there for people to see. There is too much of a stigma around tanning beds and most of it is from exaggerated or even false information put out there. If done properly, tanning can be very beneficial for people like me.