For Some, Tanning Beds Bring a Lifetime of Regrets

For Mary Ann Gerber, every glance in the mirror is a reminder of the hours she spent tanning and their heartbreaking consequences.

"The worst part is I know all the damage I did to my skin in all those years tanning," says Gerber, a 24-year-old skin cancer survivor. "It doesn't matter. I've done the damage."

Gerber, a self-described "tan-a-holic" started her trips to the tanning salon as a teenager.

VIDEO: Tanning Beds Sound Cancer AlarmPlay

"I loved tanning," she says. "I was happy, I felt skinny, it was good."

Mallory Hughes, 23, also loved the glow of the UV lamp.

She says she limited her tanning to special events, like prom and homecoming.

"It was popular to have the vacation glow at those events," she says.

Both women, diagnosed with skin cancer before their 25th birthdays, believe their love of tanning, especially tanning beds, played a major role.

"You think you're immune, you're not going to be the one who gets melanoma, but looking back its definitely not worth it," says Hughes.

Study Says Cancer Risk From Tanning Beds High

Gerber has been diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma.

"I have a 50 percent chance of survival. I almost killed myself over a stupid tan," she says.

Cancer researchers say their stories are all too common.

After analyzing nearly two dozen studies, researchers concluded that people under 30 who use tanning beds increase their cancer risk by 75 percent. The experts put tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation in the same category as cigarettes, arsenic and the sun itself.

The study was conducted by International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, part of the World Health Organization. It was published this week in the British journal Lancet.

Like the sun, tanning bulbs deliver UV radiation -- only these lights are much more concentrated. The American Cancer Society says 15 to 30 minutes on a sunbed, is equivalent to an entire day at the beach.

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Study Cites Skin Cancer Risks of Tanning Beds

Hughes said she practiced moderation.

"I'd always say I'm going to do 10 [minutes] and I thought I was being safe about it," she says.

"But any amount of time in there is very dangerous," she claims.

Yet the indoor tanning industry has repeatedly stated that its products are not only safe but if used correctly they're good for you, citing the health benefits of vitamin D, which is absorbed when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

An industry group has hit back. In a full-page ad released today, it calls the comparisons between indoor tanning and cigarettes "outrageously overhyped" and accuse the media of using scare tactics.

But Gerber says she believes knows better now.

"No matter what they say and how many times they say there are health benefits, it's not true," Gerber says.

Both of these young women must cope with the reality of cancer and will have to undergo screenings and tests for the rest of their lives.

"It's something I regret," says Hughes. "I'll have to live with it my whole life."