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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