The Most Orange, Crispy Tanning Horror Stories You’ll Ever Read

Dear Dr. Derm, forgive me for what I’m about to say.

So, yeah, “tan me” is way hotter than “pasty-and-pale me.” (And by way hotter, I’m not intimating that I’m incredibly good-looking—or even a little good-looking—it’s about that little bit of bronze that balances out my sometimes ruddy skin, makes my hair look blonder without the $250 highlighting bill and let’s me walk out of the house with some Aquaphor on as lip gloss and nothing else). But, since tanning is universally known to cause bad stuff (hi, cancer), I refrain and instead hit the bottle.

Either way you go, the bottle tan or the UV-ray real thing, getting bronzed often produces the most brutal (and totally hilar) stories. To wit…

I went tanning before a date once, because I was feeling a little pasty in the dead of winter. I tanned in the buff, and went for the full 15 minutes. Not a good idea when you haven’t seen a ray of sunshine since August. I burnt my butt and my chest. Not cute—and of course it made me pray that the date wouldn’t go that well. The clothes had to stay on!—Nat, 31

My senior year of high school, my friends and I went down to Cancun for spring break. As we basked in the sun, a friend rolled over and asked me if I wanted any of her sunscreen. I told her no, I wanted to wait a little before applying so as to get a little color and said something stupid about my “natively Floridian skin” being able to take the heat. Flash forward to later that night, when my skin had turned bright red and blisters had started to show up across my belly and shoulders. I spent the rest of the vacation wrapped up like a mummy while my friends called “not it” on sharing a bed with me; by the end of the trip, my skin was peeling off in long, clammy sheets and the big joke in the morning was to wake up, find a strip of my skin in bed and guess which body part it had come from as in “Oops! There’s her forearm!” or “Hmmm, I think this is her right flank.” Eleven years later, I’ve had no less than three suspicious moles removed, all in the vicinity of my Cancun burn. Clearly, my “Floridian skin” couldn’t handle the heat.—Janey, 29

I should have listened when the front desk girl winced and recommended five minutes less than what I asked for at Hollywood Tans. I was fried—and had to go to a wedding that night, where I was seeing my ex for the first time since the breakup. Needless to say, it wasn’t the I’m-hot-and-you-so-regret-breaking-up-with-me moment I’d envisioned.—Kat, 30

When I was 12 years old, I wore my first adult bikini ever. It was a J.Crew pink bandeau top with white polka dot bottoms—I have never felt so chic. Granted, this was at a time when my nickname was “tomato on toothpicks” for a reason – I still had a surplus of baby fat in my middle region. Anyhow, my friend and I decided to play some cards which turned into an all-day tournament. By evening, we were burnt to a crisp. That night, when I took off my bikini, I not only had a bright white stripe where my bandeau top had been, but bright white stripes where my stomach rolls had blocked the sun from reaching. For about two weeks, I had a lovely bumble bee, perfectly horizontal-striped pattern from chin to thigh. Talk about shame.—Emily, 29

In college, after going out and having a few drinks I would come back to my room and decide that it was a great time to apply self tanner. Being that this was 10 years ago, the formulas weren’t what they are today—there wasn’t any gradual build up of pretty, golden color a la that Jergens stuff. So, I’d get home, slap it on and go to bed. Not only would I wake up to a hangover the next day—but an orange streaked face and entire body parts without color. Don’t mix booze with bronzer.—Kim, 26

A few years ago, a friend talked me into going tanning. It was the dead middle of winter and I think I was see-through I was so ghostly white. So, we walk up to the reception desk and she’s singing the praises of going tanning—”It feels really nice and warm! You’ll have a tiny bit of color when no one else does. It’s make any zits go away,” blah blah blah. Well, between her and the front desk lady, they had me signed up for the ten-tan package. I’m into this! Yeah, no more zits! The second I get undressed and step into the booth I have a panic attack. Something about the neon-coffin closing on top of me totally wigs me out—I go running, yes really running, from the booth. Couldn’t take it. And that ten-pack never got used.—Sara, 24

And just to prove that guys have their own tanning fiascos, too:

I was maybe 11 when a friend shared his bottle of Beach Boys-brand tanning lotion with me. We were really concerned with being cool and looking tan when the swimming pool opened for the summer and this seemed like the quickest and smartest way to go about it. I faithfully applied the lotion, which looked and felt like sunblock, each day before I spritzed my hair with lemon juice and peroxide. About three days into the experiment, my mother was staring at me from across the dinner table and told me to go wash my face, that I had dirt all over. This seemed weird because I hadn’t been playing in dirt, but being a kid it was very possible that I got dirty somehow—so I followed instructions. This scenario repeated itself the next night and I began to think that just maybe it was my bitchin’ tan she was noticing. The tanning lotion, at this point, had turned my face a rusty red—but not all over, the color was clustered in certain areas of my face, giving me the overall appearance of having competed in a mud pie-eating contest. Coupled with the copper color that my hair was turning, I was cultivating quite the look! Thankfully, mother threw away the tanner, but it took another week or so before all of my face was the same shade again.—Tommy, 31

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