I won't stop using sunbeds until I get cancer
Wednesday 13 May 2009
Last week, it emerged that skin tumours are the number one form of cancer among young women because the use of sunbeds has soared. Despite this terrifying statistic, Brooke Bailey, 25, who's been addicted to tanning
sessions since she was 12, has no intention of giving them up.
In the past decade, Brooke Bailey,who admits to being a tanorexic, has spent a staggering £32k visiting tanning salons up to seven times a week to maintain an all-over bronzed look.
Astonishingly, even developing a skin condition and being warned by doctors that she runs a serious risk of getting cancer hasn¹t stopped her.
Experts say three million Brits regularly use sunbeds, and shocking new figures show almost one British woman in her 20s is diagnosed with malignant melanoma each day. But Brooke admits she'll only quit tanning if she
"No matter how brown I am, I never feel tanned enough and if I don't use a bed for a few days I start to feel depressed," says the model from London, who rarely uses sunscreen on holiday. "I know the dangers, but the only way I'd stop is if I developed skin cancer. Even the beautician at the tanning salon I use cautioned me about
how often I was using the beds. "She said that a doctor had told her that you only have to use a sunbed once
a month to increase your risk of skin cancer. It shocked me momentarily, but it didn¹t stop me. As soon as I was under the sunbed I forgot all about it. It's not just having a tan I love I'm addicted to the feeling of being in
a tanning salon."
And Brooke says applying fake tan, a tanning method that involves no health risks, just doesn't do it for her. "It comes out patchy and doesn't look real," she states. "And it fades too quickly."
Brooke was just 12 years old when her obsession started, after she was inspired by bronzed models in magazines. Using her birthday money, she bought a facial solarium from Argos for £60. Back then, the risks of skin cancer were not as well known, and Brooke's parents weren't concerned with her choice of present although they had no idea how often she was using it.
"I¹d hide in my room and sit with my face in front of it for 20 minutes twice a day," says Brooke. "The effect wasn't that strong, so Mum didn¹t realise - she'd have been horrified." Soon, Brooke wanted a tanned body too, and she first visited a tanning salon at the age of 14.
She says: "A salon opened near my school. It looked so glamorous, I was just drawn to it. I'd skip lunch and pay for 30-minute sessions with my dinner money. My parents had no idea and didn't notice I was getting browner because it was gradual. The staff didn't have any problem with me using the beds even though I went in wearing my school uniform."
Brooke's use of sunbeds escalated when, aged 19, she started working as a model and moved into her own flat. "I hired a sunbed and sometimes used it twice a day," recalls Brooke. "I felt fantastic, and loved it when people complimented my tan."
But a few months later, Brooke was horrified when her skin became dry and itchy and she developed white patches all over her body. She says: "I went to the doctor and he diagnosed me with vitiligo a skin disorder that causes loss of pigment. He gave me some lotion for it and, although using sunbeds wasn't the cause, he said I'd damaged my skin so much I should never use them again. He also warned me about the risk of cancer."
Brooke stopped using sunbeds and, over the following year her skin healed. However, she felt miserable and pale. "I'd grown so used to looking tanned I didn¹t recognise myself," she says. "I felt drab and my confidence dropped. As soon as my skin was better, I started using sunbeds again. Getting back on the bed and feeling the lights and heat made me feel alive again."
For the last five years, Brooke has used sunbeds up to seven times a week, and feels immune to the risks. She says: "Last year, a friend told me about a girl who'd died of skin cancer in her 20s I was shocked, but I felt it wouldn't happen to me. I do check myself for moles and I haven't got any that I think I need to worry about. And there isn't any history of skin cancer in my family."
Still, Brooke, whose boyfriend John is also a fan of tanning, isn't blind to the toll her addiction will take on her skin. She says: "I dread to think what I'll look like when I'm 40. "Sometimes I wish I'd never started. I've tried to stop a few times, but as my colour fades I start to feel depressed. Soon I'm craving the warm feeling I get from being on a sunbed and I start doing it again."
On average, Brooke visits the salon five times a week. At £15 a session, she spends £75 a week, paid for by her modelling work. Since she starting going to tanning salons 11 years ago, she's spent an estimated £32k in total. "It sickens me to think about the money, but I can¹t stop tanning," she says. "When I'm on a sunbed I imagine I'm on a beach. My friends say I'm tanorexic and they're right. My mum wishes I didn't use them and would never have let me anywhere near them when I was younger if she'd known the risks. It's an addiction and I need professional help. At the moment I'm fine, but who knows what will happen in the future?
By Boudicca Fox-Leonard