At 16 years old, Emily Matthews entered a tanning salon with her mom who signed a consent waiver and so began a nearly decade-long relationship with indoor tanning.
“I was always told in a tanning salon, even working in a tanning salon, tanning in a tanning bed was safer than tanning in the sun,” recalls Matthews.
As she got older, Emily realized the damage she had caused to her skin and began seeing a dermatologist regularly.
In 2018, a discoloration on her arm caused concern.
“The mark on my skin just looked like discoloration,” she says. “It wasn’t what you would think Melanoma would look like. All the pictures they show you, you see dark black spots… skin pusing… my skin looked totally normal.”
At 37 years old, Emily was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma and needed surgery. In talking to her oncologist, she began to realize she could have prevented this.
“He asked me if I used a tanning bed and he said to me the first time you use a tanning bed, even just once, you’ve already increased your chances of Melanoma by 75%,” says Matthews. “He asked were you a frequent user? I said yes, from 16 to 20 almost daily, 20 to 25 less frequently but I would still tan. He said every time you get in a tanning bed you increase your chances, it’s about 225% the next time you use one.”
According to Emma Watson, the Pennsylvania Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and rates continue to rise.
“The one thing we find particularly alarming, and most people don’t realize, is that the World Health Organization categorizes indoor tanning in the same cancer risk category as tobacco products,” says Watson. “We don’t let our kids smoke, we shouldn’t let them tan.”
Currently in Pennsylvania, minors can tan with an adults permission, something Watson and the American Cancer Society is hoping to change.
“When you look at surrounding states… Maryland, New York, Delaware, even West Virginia, they have stronger tanning laws than PA,” says Watson.
Currently, there is a bill in the Senate, SB909, that would strengthen Pennsylvania laws. For more information, visit fightcancer.org.