After growing up in sunny Florida and heading into my freshman year in Michigan, spending time in tanning beds was a staple of my weekly Winter routine. But after experiencing my first skin cancer scare when I was just 19, I knew it was time to pull the plug on this dangerous habit. I wish I could say that my experience was rare, but the research proves just the opposite: people who start using sunbeds under the age of 35 increase their skin cancer risk by 75 percent.
When the weather cools off, it can be tough to say no to even an occasional trip to the tanning bed. But it's important to know that every time you turn on those UV lights and lay down, you're seriously hurting your skin. Not only are you affecting your risk of cancer, you're also changing your skin's texture, which means you're more likely to experience premature aging in the form of wrinkles and sun spots.
Even with the best intentions, research explains why it's so hard for sun worshippers to say no to tanning beds. One animal study from earlier this Summer might be the proof that tanning is addictive. When mice were exposed to UV rays in this study, their bodies released feel-good endorphins that are similar to those released from opiate use, the category of drugs that includes heroin and morphine.
Luckily, it is possible for most people to kick a bad tanning-bed habit on their own. If you tend to head to the tanning studio to stay warm during Winter, heat up in a steam room or sauna instead. Laying down in one of these hot rooms can have a similarly relaxing effect on your body without any of the serious risks. And if you can't imagine living without a bit of a golden glow, invest in a quality self-tanner or get a professional spray tan. These changes might take a little getting used to, but they will slash your risk of cancer and can save your precious skin.