“I Felt Betrayed, Lied to, and Scared”

Former Indoor Tanner Kate Neale’s Story

As a teenager I wanted to be tan, but for someone with Fitzpatrick Skin Type 1 [the lightest, most sunburn-prone skin type] and naturally red hair, a tan isn’t natural or sustainable, especially not in the winter when you live in Canada! At 16 I was legally permitted to tan indoors. My parents were against it, but I started tanning anyway, at first weekly, then 2-3 times a week. I ended up tanning up to 16 times a month for approximately 12-15 minutes a session.

After I graduated high school I went straight to the salon to apply for a job. When I was hired I signed a contract saying I would maintain a tanned appearance, and in return I’d get 12 free sessions and one Mystic spray tan a month. I worked at this salon for two-and-a-half years, and was top salesperson for over a year. I really believed in what I was doing. We [salon staff] were sent to seminars with scientists, who told us that tanning beds prevented cancer, and so on. I was brainwashed. I was 17.

In April 2011 I moved to Ottawa, Ontario for school. A few weeks later my mother noticed that the freckle on my stomach had changed, and she wanted me to have it looked at. I went to see a dermatologist, who said he thought it looked fine. But he did a biopsy, which left an inch-long scar. I was scared, but convinced myself that everything would be fine.

Three weeks later the doctor called to tell me that the “freckle” was a melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. I dropped the phone, and broke down. I had truly believed what I’d been taught by the industry — that tanning prevented certain cancers and that the industry had the documents and scientists to back up these claims. Instead it seems I’d had a death wish. Over the next six weeks I had many doctor’s appointments, three more biopsies for lesions on my breast, leg, and arm — and finally excisional surgery to remove the melanoma, which fortunately was at an early-stage, and non-invasive. Today I have a 6-inch scar on my stomach and so much fear.

I’m currently waiting for the results of another biopsy; I always have new spots appearing and changing. I’ll never forget going to the surgeon’s office with my mom — he thought she was the patient. When he realized that I was the patient, he told me I was the youngest person he’d ever treated for melanoma. I’m only 21.