When Anna Taylor spotted a sunbed for sale for just £50 in the classifieds section of her local paper back in 1999, she thought all her birthdays had come at once.
The convenience of having sun-kissed skin without ever having to leave her house was irresistible to the 18-year-old.
Instead of topping up her tan once a week, Anna spent an hour on the sunbed every night, for a staggering three years.
After baking her skin for more than 900 hours of UV rays, Anna gave up her habit in favour of fake tan lotion and kept out of the sun to avoid wrinkles.
But the damage was already done and in January last year doctors discovered she had a cancerous spot on her face.
Surgeons were forced to cut a chunk out of her cheek, leaving the attractive radio presenter with 29 stitches and a huge scar from her eye to her mouth.
"I was confident about my looks before my surgery," Anna, from Worthing, Sussex, says. "Now, at 33, with a scar I'll have for life stretching most of the way down my face, I'm reminded daily that my vanity backfired.
"Doctors have told me the scar should fade with time but that I will always have a mark. I'm desperate to get the message out to young girls, teens and even ladies my own age that sunbeds are simply not worth the risk, I know that now."
Anna first noticed a tiny spot on her left cheek near her nose in 2010, 11 years after using the sunbeds, but dismissed it after her GP said it was just a scar.
But the blemish grew and after two people commented on it, she went to see another doctor in January last year. After examining it with a magnifying glass, he announced it was a skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma – caused by exposure to UV rays.
"I felt sick," Anna remembers. "They kept saying to me you must sunbathe but I don't – I don't like my freckles and I don't want wrinkles.
"They kept saying it was very rare for someone my age to have this. It was only when the fifth or sixth person questioned me about sunbathing that I suddenly remembered the sunbeds.
"I had loved the feeling of the warmth on my face and having a tan made me feel healthy. I thought it wasn't doing any harm because it wasn't the sun, which of course is stupid."
Surgeons at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead cut out the tumour – about the size of a 5p piece – and the surrounding tissue in two 30-minute operations in June 2013.
"It was awful," Anna says. "It felt like they were just cutting and cutting."
Two days later, surgeons patched up the gaping hole in her face by stretching the surrounding skin. But they had to slice her face from just below her eye to her mouth, to give them enough skin to create a flat scar and avoid puckering.
"The shallow side of me thought I looked awful," says Anna. "All I could think was that nobody in their right mind was going to want to date someone who had such horrible marks on her face. I was terrified about going out and facing the world."
But Anna is coming to terms with her scar and wants to use it to persuade tanning addicts to ditch the harmful habit.
"There is no point and no excuse for going on sunbeds, especially with all the self-tan products out there now," she says. "I know first-hand just how damaging they can be."
By Matthew Abbott
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