SunlightWhile Iowans typically don’t worry about getting a sunburn during the bitter cold of winter, prom season is approaching and many high school students will be hitting tanning beds, hoping for a perfect tan.

A pre-prom event in Cedar Rapids this weekend will feature Krista Barnell, of Walford, a 37-year-old skin cancer survivor who will share her story, starting with her diagnosis in 2009.

“My dermatologist noticed a mole on my back that looked a little funny,” Barnell says. “She removed it and the test came back with melanoma. It was just at the beginning stages of melanoma so I didn’t have to do any treatment. They did have to go back and remove a good-sized chunk from my back.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, while melanoma accounted for more than 73,000 new cases nationwide in 2015 and about 10,000 skin cancer deaths a year. A federal study finds people who begin tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of melanoma.

Barnell’s grandfather died of melanoma at age 56. Being a survivor herself now, she’s very passionate about spreading the message to young people who may be making the same mistakes she did. “I loved to be in the tanning beds, ever since I was 14,” Barnell says. “You could never be tan enough back at that age. I loved to lay out and used baby oil and tanning oil and if you got sunburned, you knew you were going to get a really nice tan.”

Barnell has two younger nieces who she’s been striving to educate about the potential dangers of using a tanning bed. “There’s self-tanners, there’s the spray tan,” Barnell says. “They have followed that, for the most part, but I know they had a big celebration, a homecoming or prom, and one of them went to a tanning bed and it just makes me cringe.”

Sunday’s pre-prom event at Mercy Medical Center features a fashion show and tips on hair, makeup and sunless tanning from industry experts. The event is aimed at keeping young people out of the sun and away from tanning booths, especially as prom season nears.