(NEW YORK) — From tanning beds to spray tans, the desire among young women for darker skin is hotter than ever this summer.
Jeannine Morris, 29, was once enamored by the glow of tanned skin. To get her deep caramel complexion, the beauty assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine baked in a tanning bed every day — sometimes even twice a day — for seven years. A self-described “tanorexic,” she wanted to be as dark as she possibly could — with no concern for her health.
“I was in the strongest bed every single day. You can only go into those for like 8 minutes at a time. I would lay there and bake and when I got out, my skin did not even smell good. I smelled burnt,” she recalled of her 22-year-old self. “I knew it wasn’t healthy. I just liked the way I looked, liked the way I felt and didn’t really care.”
That was until her bed-baking addiction began to get in the way of her dream job at Cosmopolitan. When editors pulled her aside and expressed concerns about what the toll her tanning was taking on her health, it finally struck a chord.
“They said, ‘Look, now that you’re hired, you’re representing the brand.’ … They were kind of expressing concerns to me about my look and about how unhealthy it was for me to go tanning,” she said. “It was never like, ‘If you don’t stop tanning, we’re going to fire you. … It’s simply an oxymoron for beauty editors to go tanning.’ I was like, I have my dream job, I’m not going to let anything stand in that way.”
A career-driven Morris decided to stop tanning altogether or “ban the tan” as she dubbed it, but like any addiction she says she suffered from withdrawals.
“I started to feel immediately fat. … I no longer got that heat on my body, my skin no longer smelled that way, when I put makeup on it looked different, the whites in my eyes didn’t pop, my teeth didn’t look as white,” she said. “It was like everything started to fade and as things faded I was not happy with myself, and I couldn’t handle turning pale.”
Over time Morris, who founded the website beautysweetspot.com and first shared her story on her blog and later with the New York Post, successfully kicked the habit. She considers it a life-changing decision, as does 21-year old Maxxie Goldstein, who also lived by the mantra: “the darker the better.”
“I don’t think I ever realized I was obsessed until now, looking back,” said Goldstein, a college student in New York. “I really wanted to tan just because in my head I looked better tan.”
Goldstein’s high school and college days have been consumed by tanning. That’s six years of damage to her skin that she can’t undo.
“If I really knew the harsh reality of the tanning world, I don’t think I would have ever done it. It’s something that you can’t take back. There is no reverse, sort of, for the damage that is done,” she said.
Skin cancer is now the second most common cancer among women in their 20s, according to Cancer Research U.K., and new studies show that sun bed users under the age of 30 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
Morris is grateful that the only health condition she’s been burned by so far is that her skin is aging prematurely. She insists her days of roasting in tanning beds are over and that you couldn’t pay her to go in a tanning bed again. Now, you’ll find her lathered up in SPF 30.
“I’m very lucky the only thing I’ve suffered from are fine lines and hyper pigmentation,” she said. “It’s over … and I feel healthy.” Morris is grateful that she does not have skin cancer, but she does visit a dermatologist for regular checkups.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio