In one selfie, a young woman shows the disturbing risks of tanning beds

WARNING: Contains graphic image.

As a pale-skinned lady, the temptations of hitting the tanning bed were SUPER real for me in high school. So many girls were doing it, and though I never did, I longed for a beautiful glow like all the other girls had. Just a few minutes in the bed, and you’ve got yourself a gorgeous, ready-to-be-envied tan. What’s the harm in that?

The harm can be defined in two terrifying words: Skin cancer. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “Those who use sunbeds before age 30 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent.” 27-year-old Tawny Willoughby is learning the lessons of skin cancer and sunbeds the hard way, but she’s using her experience to educate others about the dangers of tanning. To raise awareness, Tawny recently posted a selfie on Facebook, and that selfie has gone viral. No, not because it’s super-cute (though Tawny is stunning) — she posted the image to show the horror that she’s had to endure after a life of hitting the tanning bed.

“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!” she wrote. “This is what skin cancer treatment can look like.”

(PS. We’re going to put the image on the next page ’cause it’s pretty graphic and we want you to decide whether or not you see it.) 

The picture, which has been shared over 50,000 times, shows Tawny’s face, bloodied and raw, after one of her many skin cancer treatments. Tawny did the majority of her tanning in high school, and said she’d hit the tanning beds approximately 4-5 times a week since her tan faded “very fast,” according to her caption. Though she never laid in the sun and in the bed on the same day, and she never went tanning more than once a day, she had her first skin cancer diagnosis at the painfully young age of 21.

Tawny goes on to explain that at age 27, she has had basal cell carcinoma (cancerous skin growths — the most common form of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation) not once, but a whopping five times, and squamous cell carcinoma once . . . not including her face. “I go to the dermatologist every 6-12 months and usually have a skin cancer removed at each checkup,” she explains. “I’m very thankful to not have had melanoma!”

Many people assume that they’re safe from skin cancer as long as they don’t have moles, but this isn’t the case,” warns Tawny. “Skin cancer is not always moles, [sic] only one of mine have been a mole,” she explains further on her Facebook post. “Get any suspicious, new and growing spot checked out. Anything that doesn’t heal, possibly bleeds on and off and crusts. The sooner you find it the less likely it will leave a disfiguring scar or grow deep enough to metastasize.”

If you want to get tan, go ahead — but do it through safer means, Tawny says. “Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan,” she warns. “You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Don’t let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That’s my biggest fear now that I have a two year old [sic] little boy of my own . . . Melanoma kills, non melanoma [sic] disfigures (and can also kill). Don’t be a statistic!”

The grisly marks and scars led someone to report the picture on Facebook after only 10,000 shares, but Facebook did not take it down — and we’re thankful for that, because it’s seriously a major dose of reality that we all need now that the weather is getting warmer. It was incredibly brave of Tawny to share this dark, tender photo of herself and explain her story battling skin cancer. By spreading her story she will hopefully encourage others to protect their skin and keep their bodies safe. And for that, we thank her.

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