Life Lessons: Tanning Bed Cooties

This following article is presented for entertainment purposes. It is not intended as scholarly research or a final authority on the subject. 

There was no sunscreen when I was a little girl in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  If there was, we didn’t know about it or understand why anybody would want to use it.

Instead, a coconut scented oil that probably promoted sun damage was marketed.  A tan–especially a deep tan–was sexy and/or cool.

Cut to the early to mid-1990s.  Tanning salons were everywhere.  By then, we knew more more about sun damage and its relation to skin cancer.  Despite that, people lined up to lay in these glass and metal coffins and get tan.

The Lure of the Fake Tan

Back in those days, I thought a year-around tan looked healthy.  So I was one of the idiots standing in line.

I tan very easily.  Once I got a base tan, maintaining it took very few visits to the tanning salon.  We had little disposable income, and tanning was my one luxury.

There was something relaxing about laying in that bright, bright light.  The only sound was the electric hum of the lights.  All sensation was lost other than the heat of the lights and the breeze from the electric fan caressing the sweat from my skin.

After trying out several tanning salons, I found one that was open on my day off work and fit my budget.  The woman who owned the place was a little weird, but she was nice.

Little did I know, my fake-n-bake sessions were numbered–for reasons I never saw coming.

Here’s What Happened

I showed up for my regular tanning session.  The weird lady told me another client had walked in without an appointment and wanted to tan.  She said it would be a few minutes.

I sat down, opened my book, and waited.  After about ten minutes, this sweaty dude came out of the little room where the tanning bed was kept.  We nodded to each other, and I kept reading…because I thought the proprietor was going to go back there and clean the tanning bed.

Instead, she said,  “It’s ready.  Go on back.”

My stomach sank, and I had to swallow to keep from throwing up.  A million thoughts sped through my mind, and all of them boiled down to one word: gross!

It was gross if I had been expected to clean up the tanning bed myself and had not been doing it.  It was gross if this weird lady did not expect the tanning beds to be cleaned between uses.  Just gross all around.

Interlude: Tanning Bed Hygiene

Every tanning salon I had been to had a different policy on this.

At some tanning salons, the customer was expected to clean the tanning bed before and after use.  At those places, a bottle of disinfectant spray and a roll of paper towels sat in a prominent place.

At most tanning salons, however, an attendant came in between customers.  This attendant sanitized the tanning bed and cleaned up any trash left behind.

In all the times I had been to that particular tanning salon, I had never seen a bottle of disinfectant in the room with the tanning bed.   This made sense because the proprietor never mentioned I needed to clean the tanning bed.

I ASSumed the proprietor was cleaning the tanning beds between appointments.

Ever heard that saying about assume?  If not, just know this:  Assume = Ass + u + me

The Curse of Ass + u + me

I slunk into the tanning room and closed the door.

Knowing deep down what I’d see, I opened the tanning bed.  Yep.  There was a pool of that man’s sweat on the glass.  I just stood there, slack jawed with shock.

This was what I got for assuming.

When I recovered enough to function, I poked around the little room hoping I might find something with which to clean the tanning bed.  Unsurprisingly, I found nothing.

What Did Catie Do?

I was stumped.   Remember–I was pretty young, still in my twenties.

Back then, I had significantly less money and even less nerve.  I found a towel–yes, there were clean towels in this room–and wiped the sweat off the tanning bed.  Then, with my skin crawling, I laid down in the tanning bed and turned it on for my session.

These days, I would probably leave without tanning but still give the proprietor some lame excuse.

I don’t remember what I said to the weird lady who ran the place on my way out.  I don’t remember if I bothered to cancel the rest of my appointments. All I know for sure is that I never returned to that place even though I still had prepaid sessions remaining.

Aftermath: The Cooties

Cut to a few weeks later.  I realized that my skin no longer itched.  For some time, I had been idly scratching at minor itches all over my body.  The itching never quite entered the stage of being annoying enough for me to analyze the cause.  It was just there.

If I thought about the itching at all, I guessed my skin must be dry.  Maybe I bought better lotion.   When I stopped itching so close to quitting the tanning bed, however, I wondered if  laying in a dirty tanning bed every week had irritated my skin.

The Lesson

These days, there is probably some health code requiring a certain level of sanitation in tanning salons.  Maybe there are tanning bed police who go around enforcing that code.  Point is, they are probably cleaner than they used to be.

Either way, you won’t catch this country girl using tanning bed.  I can talk about sun damage related cancer all I want.   Really, I won’t set foot in a tanning salon because I don’t want another experience with tanning bed cooties.

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31 thoughts on “Life Lessons: Tanning Bed Cooties

  1. Eeew, Eeew, Eeew! I don’t tan easily, I burn first, so tanning beds are not for me. Thanks goodness! It must still make your skin crawl to think about it, Catie!

    • It does gross me out every time I think of it. I have gotten pretty squeamish as I’ve aged, though. Things I used to do without a second thought are now things I won’t do at all. (Drinking out of a public fountain, going to a public swimming pool, etc.) So I’m pretty picky anyway.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Yes, but not one I can really share; it’s THAT bad. Let’s just say it involved a bartender pouring drinks in such a manner that every third one was free for the house and the money went into his pocket.

    • You’ve made me way too curious. But I do know the kind of stuff that can happen to you in a bar. Some of it is stuff you never ever want to tell anybody. 😀

  3. on ,
    Jeff Armstrong said:

    As a regulat traveler for sales I hope I have seen every gross hotel room, restroom, etc… there is. If not then I shudder to think what is left. Loved the post today

    • And men’s public restrooms are WAY worse than women’s (usually). Several years ago, my husband and I were out riding motorcycles. We stopped at a convenience store for some cool water and to visit the facilities. The women’s restroom was out of order, so the clerk told me to just use the men’s and let my husband stand guard.

      Oh, the things I saw in that restroom. The horror! The horror! As we were preparing to leave, my husband said, “No matter how nasty you think that restroom was, it was pretty much the norm for a men’s room.” Ack!

  4. I’ve never been to a tanning salon. I had this “vision” of coming out and looking like George Somebody or other, who is an actor – can’t remember his name. Anyway, that IS gross and although I’m sure you’re going to be regaled with many other examples of “EEWWW-ness”, I hate the fact that when you go to a hotel, you know darn well the maids are not washing the bed spreads – EVER. EEWWWWWW.

    • George Burns? LOL I’ve seen people who have very obviously spent too much time either in the sun or in the tanning bed. It is not a pretty sight.

      Hotels are soooo nasty. I always find myself trying not to look around very carefully. And, no. You know they never launder the bedspreads. Which makes it hard for me to get a good night’s sleep.

      • on ,
        estaQ said:

        Alright everybody.

        This is your official invitation to bring a small carton of chocolate milk to EVERY Hotel visit from now on. On your way out the door on your final day, you must ball up all the linens, bedspread included, with the open milk carton smack dab in the center. They CAN’T NOT WASH IT! Not only will the chocolate make it more visible, but you can’t mask the smell of sour milk, as any mother knows.

        If everyone does this EVERY TIME, then eventually ALL the bedspreads in EVERY hotel will have been washed the day before you arrive, see?


        Either that or write your Senator/Congressman to create a Cootie Legislation that every sheet, blanket, bedspread, bath towel, washcloth, etc., be laundered in HOT water for every guest, EVERY TIME!!!

        Sorry, this is one of my pet peeves.

  5. That was just nasty, Catie. I’ve never used a tanning salon because I’d much rather get a real tan during the summer and let my skin recuperate the rest of the year. Your experience reinforces for me it was the right decision. :)

    I’ve had this same issue in other public places. Gym etiquette is you carry a clean towel with you and wipe down the machine after use, but that doesn’t sanitize it. Only recently have I witnessed employees sanitizing with Lysol or Chlorox wipes in between uses. Also, when we’ve stayed at a hotel or resort where there’s a jetted tub in the master bedroom I wonder how clean it is. I always run the jets first to see if any bacteria/mold floats into the tub. If so, I call for housekeeping to clean it up before we use it. (I wouldn’t have said anything as a young woman either, but I’ve learned to speak up since then.)

    Looking forward to guest posts, too. Makes me consider doing that Key West paranormal story for your blog. Hmm.

    • First off, Jolyse, I’d love to host your Key West paranormal story. And you can still run it on your blog. I’ve re-run several guest posts here after a few months have passed. Just contact me and tell me what and when.

      Gyms can be super duper gross. Back when I worked out at them, sweat covered machines were a familiar site. Which makes you wonder how many of the machines had dried sweat on them. Ewww!

      We have stayed in exactly one hotel room that had a jetted tub. It was in Mexico. I did not know to run the jets first to check for bacteria or mold. This is good info. I’ll do that next time. 😀

  6. OMG!!!! This is just gross. I used to use tanning beds all the time and for whatever reason (oh, wait – I know… I was young and naive) never once thought about germs and other things in the tanning beds. Now I would. I do. I haven’t tanned in years, but I even get nervous sitting in movie theater chairs. Is that bad? All that goes through my mind is.. what if the person who sat here before me had head lice? What can you do?

    • I have my own reasons for not going to movie theaters (allergy to perfume in closed spaces). But I do think the seats are gross. I remember going to movie houses as a kid and the seat would be sticky where someone had spilled coke (or worse) on it. Now, I would probably get up and leave. LOL

      I think most women of our generation either still visit the tanning bed a few times a year or used to in the past. 😀

  7. on ,
    Emma said:

    That’s so gross. I would have run a mile. I’m actually shuddering right now.
    I’ve never used a tanning bed. My little treat to myself is a spray tan every now and again.
    I stayed in a hostel in Budapest. There were 20 beds to one room. The toilet was basically a closet space and there was no sink. To wash your hands, you had to go next door to the bathroom which also housed a washing machine! I was 21 or 22 back then and willing to put with gross accommodation but I couldn’t do it now.

    • I have heard about hostels, but I have never stayed at one. Wowza. I can’t imagine bunking down with 20 strangers. The American in me wonders if theft would be a problem. I bet it was not especially clean. But you got to go to Budapest. That is super cool. I’ve only been to Mexico.

      I have never done the spray tan. I am sort of curious, but not curious enough to fork over the $$. Before I did that, I’d probably treat myself to some expensive makeup. LOL

  8. on ,
    alandhopewell said:

    I was about ten years old when this happened…. I love sardines, always have. My ma generally bought me several cans when she shopped.

    An’hoo, I’m home one afternoon, ma’s out on an errand, my brothers are outside playing, just me and my grandfather, who’s in the living room talking to our next-door neighbor.

    I got a can of sardines (in mustard sauce) out of the cupboard, and was just about to get the opener (this was 1966) when I got a GREAT idea….as I’d never had hot sardines,I was going to heat these up on the stove. So, I put the can on the burner eye, turned it all the way up, and went back to the kitchen table to read my comic book.

    A couple minutes later, I heard a loud BANG!, and a whizzing sound. I looked, and the can had detonated on the stove, shattering the cast-iron eye, shredding the can; the whizzing I heard was shrapnel, sticking into the wall, cupboard, and screen door, and splattering sardines and mustard sauce all over the walls and ceiling.

    My grandfather and our neighbor came tearing into the kitchen; Bud pulled a piece of can out of the wall, about six inches from my head.

    Needless to say, ma was not happy when she got back….I got a whipping, and no sardines for a month.

    To this day, I can’t eat the ones in mustard sauce-gotta be oil.

    • As I read this, I wondered if you got your butt blistered. It was an honest mistake, something a kid would think might work. But I’d have gotten spanked for it, too. As for the mess, oh yuck. My mom would have had me clean up the mess.

      As for eating sardines–my husband eats them sometimes. Every once in a while, he’ll ask me to buy him a can at the grocery. I’ve never tried them. Not even once. 😀

  9. Ewwww!!! That is just gross! I really don’t tan. I burn and it fades. The only time in my life I ever tanned was during a trip to California and it was a light tan. I used a tanning bed a couple of times but burned with the fade, so didn’t go back. Now I’m glad I didn’t. I’m itching now. Thanks, Catie! LOL I did do the spray on tan once before a cruise. I loved the look, but not the standing there nearly naked in front of a stranger to spray you. It’s not something I’d do again except for something special like a cruise or beach/island vacation somewhere.

    • My mom has the same complexion as you, Rhonda. She is also a natural blonde. Now that Mom has spent more than 60 years burning and fading, she has some pretty bad sun damage on her arms and face. As a matter of fact, she recently had to have a skin cancer spot removed from her arm. Luckily, it one of those that you have removed, and the cancer is gone Scared us pretty good, though.

      As for the spray on tan, I wonder if you still burn underneath the spray on tan. Know what I mean?

      • The spray on stuff offers no protection at all. It’s just cosmetic. I burned a little on the cruise, but I use Coppertone Sport with the highest SPF and I rarely burn now. Even when getting in and out of the water, I can last a lot longer than in the past. I’m pretty good about reapplying throughout the day though. I’ve used a lots of different brands through the years, some way more expensive and the CS works the best for me. My grandmother died from a rare form of skin cancer (and she tanned easily) so it is very scary to me. I’m glad your mom’s okay.

  10. I’ve always thought a good tan was beautiful. In my younger days I stayed tan most of the time. In my early adult years – up to early forties – I would add a little iodine to baby oil and cover myself with it to get a good deep tan. Now I don’t have to do that. I get my tan from liver spots all over my body. As ugly as they are, I thank God I have them instead of melanoma.

    • Your comment reminded me of the 1984 film Against All Odds (which was a remake of Robert Mitchum’s Out of the Past). Have you ever seen it? No? You need to find it. If for no other reason, you’ve got to see Rachel Ward’s tan. She was so deeply tanned that I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t make-up.

      And, yes, liver spots are much less horrible than melanoma. 😀

  11. That…is just nasty!!!
    Hubby and I use tanning beds usually a few times before going south to avoid burning. We do use a salon that has a cleaning policy where the staff disinfect beds between tans….but sometimes I still wonder just how sanitary the whole thing is…
    I’ll share a truly gross story that my BFF just went through. She got a Wendy’s salad and was enjoying it for super. She stuck her fork into the salad and hit something hard and crunchy. When she looked down, it was a HUGE dragon fly. Yip. I near barfed at the picture. She took the salad back in Wendy’s and gave it to the manager who simply SHRUGGED his shoulders, tossed it in the garbage, said something about how they sometimes get into the lettuce and offered her a free salad for her troubles.

    • Now, I bet you will wonder even more if they are actually cleaning the tanning beds. LOL Don’t forget you can always bring your own antibacterial wipes.

      Okay. That dragon fly story got my goat. I can’t believe the manager just shrugged her off. But that seems to happen more and more often, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. on ,
    alandhopewell said:

    My mixed ancestry is a blessing; I tan, but I don’t ever burn.

  13. I worked at a hotel restaurant one time and witnessed the chef drop a steak on the floor, pick it up and brush it off, and then drop that baby right on the grill. After that, I never ate anything at that place that I didn’t prepare myself. Oh, and I stopped eating at buffets because–I’m so sorry to tell you this, people–you have NO idea how long some of that food has been sitting there unless there is brisk, constant traffic up to that buffet.

    Never used a tanning bed. I did like the spray tan I got once.

  14. Thankfully, I was addicted to the sun before the time of tanning beds and never faced your situation–but am sure, other events were just as awful in my twenties and even thirties and I didn’t pay attention. Through my twenties and early thirties I baked as often and as long as possible, and my grandmother reminded me at every opportunity that one day I’d regret it. Grandma was right. Not only is the sun oh so harmful to the skin–it destroys the eyes. Give me a cloudy day anytime. And, we know skin cancer has increased 49% and the age of first occurrence has dropped by 14 years thanks to tanning beds.