I have a dirty little secret. I’m a sunbed addict. My husband begged me to stop… but one thing finally made me realise the risks are too great

In a salon on a chic street in London, I pull up the collar of my trench coat and put on my sunglasses before going out. When I reach the threshold, I covertly check both ways to make sure no one has seen me before I step onto the sidewalk.

I’m not going to shoplift or buy goods that belong in a brown paper bag, but I do have a dirty little secret. The truth is, I’m leaving a tanning shop.

No, I don’t have a death wish and yes, I have read a daily newspaper in recent years. I know that tanning bed use is linked to skin cancer. So why on earth am I doing it? Why would an educated woman in her thirties with a thriving career like me risk that?

What’s worse, it’s not like I’m an occasional tanner. I have been using the tanning bed every week, occasionally, for eight years. At the height of my addiction, leading up to my wedding, I used them for ten minutes at a time every day. While it’s unsafe to spend any time on a tanning bed, that kind of heavy use is especially dangerous — especially for someone as naturally pale as me.

In all other respects I live a healthy lifestyle. I don’t smoke, I’ve started drinking less, I’m very conscious of what I eat, I go to the gym, I walk regularly and I always get my five a day. Yet I can’t shake this one vice, which seems even more socially unacceptable than smoking.

That’s probably why new figures showing that more than one in four of us use sunbeds have come as such a shock. No one dares to admit it.

About 28 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 65 still go to tanning beds or use private tanning beds, despite the risk of skin cancer

The research by skin cancer charity Melanoma Focus found that 28 percent of people aged 16 to 65 still go to tanning beds or use private tanning beds. This is despite the fact that 62 percent are aware that tanning bed use can increase the risk of skin cancer due to the UV light that damages DNA in cells.

Where I live in Oxfordshire, I have a lot of friends who use tanning beds: wealthy, hot mummies who spend time and money on their appearance. They admit to using Botox in a way they never would their tanning bed habit.

My exposure to tanning started early. I grew up with a tanning bed in my parents’ house – a giant thing made of wood that resembles a human oven. We kept it in what doubled as a study. When I ask about it now, I’m told it was because Dad ‘had a back injury’ and a doctor advised him to use a tanning bed on it.

I suspect it had more to do with his penchant for a year-round tan and his love for a pair of white Speedos on our regular trips to Spain.

I remember coming home from Brownies around the age of seven and seeing the Steven Spielberg-esque bright blue light beaming down the hallway. You’d hear this comical ‘ding’ (like an oven alarm) when your tanning time was over. To be fair, my father stopped using it in the early 1990s when he realized it was dangerous, but it sat in the house untouched for years.

My own obsession started in my teens – when muscular, tanned pop stars like Britney Spears were the pin-ups of the day. Girls at school came in with mahogany-colored limbs and proudly said they were using sunbeds.

One day, when my parents were away, I dared to turn on Dad’s old machine. I was fifteen and did it for ten minutes, my heart pounding with fear of being discovered.

It didn’t seem to do much to my skin. The second time I tried, my parents found out and freaked out. They put the fear of God in me and claimed I would burn the house down and get cancer. They scared me so much that I became an avid fake tanner instead – that glamorous tangerine shade that passed as Levis and smelled like Mini Cheddars. When friends asked why I was suddenly so tan, I claimed I had just been sitting in the backyard.

Over the years I’ve learned the importance of exfoliation and moisturizer before applying the St Tropez – until one day in 2016 I noticed I’d gotten a bit of a natural tan from sitting in the park. I had always thought that any change in pigment, apart from reddish-brown burn, was impossible on my skin and I was desperate to hold on to it.

Living in London, I went to a seedy salon where the buzzing sound of the cylindrical coffin-style sunbed made me fear it was about to explode while I was in it. I was more concerned about burning than skin damage, but it gave me a glorious base tan. The following week I went back and so began my tanning bed obsession.

For years I went through long periods of going weekly before something brought me to my senses. I would give myself a talk about skin cancer and I would quit for four or five months.

But I would inevitably return, as the promise of summer made me think about wearing my lily-white limbs.

Occasionally I tried to justify it to myself – perversely – on health grounds. I suffer from a bit of psoriasis on my leg and a friend was once told by a doctor that tanning beds could help. It makes the redness turn white, but deep down I know it’s about vanity.

What can I say? I just believe, wrongly or rightly, that I look and feel better when I’m tanned.

When I look back on the times when I really went for it and used the tanning bed intensively, I become terrified of what I did to my skin.

My husband and I got married on his family farm in 2021 and leading up to the big day I was dangerously obsessed with my tan. I wanted to achieve and maintain that perfect sun-kissed, fresh-from-vacation look. I started going daily during my breaks at work. Although I never got sunburned, I did get pigment spots and deeper lines on my face.

Ironically, tanning was never about impressing my husband, who always shook his head when I used them and begged me to stop because of the dangers.

I was so obsessed with my wedding tan that when I suddenly realized on the eve of my big day that I hadn’t booked that all-important final appointment, and despite my pleas the local salon refused to accommodate me, I burst into tears. . I was already cookie brown.

It sounds crazy, but tanning is so addictive. Shortly after we got married, I had a four-month period where I avoided them. But I returned the following summer – the lure of the £1-a-minute sunbed package got to me.

Then late last year I discovered that I was finally pregnant with the baby I wanted. Tanning beds are bad for unborn babies because they lower your folic acid levels (something you should increase at this time to prevent birth defects). It is also believed that the increase in body temperature may harm the fetus.

So that was that. I put the sunbeds on the shelf despite the package I had just bought. It was no longer about me.

I hope this will put an end to tanning beds once and for all. Not that I will ever own my family. My middle sister, who is a doctor, would definitely disown me.

So for me it’s back to the self-tanner. Because while I may not bake myself in the tanning bed again, I still can’t quite get myself back to my original pale white skin.