A woman has revealed the deadly side effects to her tanning obsession – after the quest for a healthy golden glow left her with skin cancer and a “hole” in her head.
Nickie Murtagh, 37, from London, started to use sunbeds in her early 20s as her friend owned a sun bed shop.
Nickie – who is mum to Sophie, 19, Ruby, 15, and Ryan, 13 – started to steadily increase her use until she was hooked – jumping on the sunbed up to twice a week.
However, in 2016, she found a spot on her hair parting line that didn’t heal and grew into a lump.
“I visited by GP twice and was told both times that it was a cosmetic issue and that it was only a cyst,” Nickie, who works as a childminder and children’s charity committee member, said.
“They said that if I wanted it removing it would be by a private appointment.”
But by February of 2018, she went to the GP again as the lump had grown and was extremely unsightly.
The mum-of-three said: “Again, the GP assured me that it was cosmetic, but I broke down as it was really affecting my confidence.
“The doctor said she would refer me due to the size, but not to expect an appointment as she thought it was fine. When I got an appointment I was shocked.”
Three months later, Nickie went to her appointment and the dermatologist instantly raised concerns, rushing her to theatre to have a biopsy taken.
On Friday 13 May 2018, she was told she had skin cancer and was booked for a removal and skin graft for December 2018.
She added: “I work at The Royal Marsden Hospital so I’ve seen lots of cancer, but that word sends chills.
“We didn’t want to even tell the kids as we knew they wouldn’t be able to see the past that word.”
The growth was removed, followed by a skin graft.
She said: “I was awake during the whole process and it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
“It was sent off for analysis and it was confirmed that they managed to remove all the cancer.
“I now have regular checks of my skin and moles, I am left with huge scars and awful skin on my face due to sun damage, especially melasma.”
Melasma is a skin condition characterised by brown or blue-grey patches or freckle-like spots, which pop up on Nickie every time the sun returns.
Nickie said: “I have tried so many treatments for this but nothing works, which shows the damage I have done to it.
“I’m always worried about a return as skin cancer is usually recurrent. The fear is real and it never goes away.”
Nickie has regular skin checks and keeps pushing for more awareness on skin cancer.
She added: “I had some treatment to try and help repair the damage done to my face and a hair transplant.
“They initially seemed to work, but with the return of the sun, the damage is all back.
“I don’t like how I look now – but that’s my battle scars and forever reminder that I have my life so will do everything I can to help push this horrid cancer awareness.”
The mum has shared her journey on TikTok ( @nickienoomurtagh ) where she urges other people to be safe in the sun and not make the same mistakes she has.
In one clip, Nickie shows the uneven skin tone on her face, which received 3.5 million views as well as racking up 215,000 likes, with viewers calling her “brave” and vowing to note use sun beds.
One person commented: “I was literally thinking how pale I am and never used a sun bed but wanted to, thank you for changing my mind!”
“You’re amazing girly thank you for posting this video really opened up my eyes I’m throwing out my tanning lotion and giving up now,” said someone else.
Nickie said of the online reaction: “I’ve faced quite a backlash from pro tanners and from people who just want to be mean.
“Some people remind me that I did it to myself, that I’m vain, and that I deserve it.
“I’m lucky that I’m only scarred and I still have my life, so I will use it as best I can to save peoples skin and lives too.”