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Trapped In a Tanning Bed

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"Turn me over. I'm done on this side."

Going tanning can get you that nice, bronze look, but it can also be dangerous if you're not prepared. In fiction, the risks of things like skin cancer and sunburns are still risks but are either not as immediate to get drama out of or are too common to match an exaggerated scenario. That's why you'll sometimes see characters get trapped in a tanning bed for way longer than they're supposed to, either because the person who was supposed to free them neglected to, because they fell asleep, or because it's an intentional effort to harm or kill them.

In comedic scenarios, the character will emerge with serious burns or skin damage, but it will be Played for Laughs as dark comedy with no real consequences other than something similar to an Embarrassingly Painful Sunburn. In more realistic scenarios, it's played far more seriously, and may even result in death, similar to tropes like Sauna of Death and Cooked to Death. After all, the amount of heat exposure would be deadly in real life due to factors like dehydration and the aforementioned skin damage and burning...

...So it's lucky that, in reality, tanning beds are heavily regulated worldwide to ensure the safety of the people using them. Though this scenario is common in fiction, things like heat timers, lightweight doors, and an inability to lock mean that while there's still a risk associated with the act of going tanning, you don't need to worry about this trope occurring in real life. It hasn't stopped this trope and urban legends about deadly tanning accidents from circulating, though.

Compare Sauna of Death, and contrast Locked in a Freezer.


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    Films— Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • 9-1-1: An Asshole Victim who ran a gym died when he used his own tanning bed (which he kept insisting wasn't broken and refused to fix) and couldn't open it when he was done. It was Death by Irony because the day before, he left his dog in the car with the windows rolled up.
  • A woman is found liquified in one in Bones "The Bikini in the Soup". Cam pressures everyone to solve the case fast so she can have her Valentine’s date.
  • The Brittas Empire: In "The Boss", Colin traps a woman in a sunbed in an attempt to assist in the ridiculously extreme hypothetical situations that Brittas was putting Gavin through as part of his management training. Due to this, however, Brittas dismisses Colin's warnings that she doesn't look too good under it under the belief that this was a hypothetical situation too until the woman eventually shows up looking extremely red and sunburnt near the end of the episode.
  • CSI: Miami has an episode ("Last Straw") where a killer takes out one of their victims by padlocking her in a tanning bed once she's lying there with her eyes closed and earbuds in, thus cooking her to death.
  • MADtv (1995): One skit had a Caucasian man walk into a tanning salon run by two "very tanned people" who convince him their operation is legit with the help of a "satisfied customer". The salon turns out to be the back end of a barbeque restaurant that cooks gullible people like him by strapping the tanning bed shut and turning the power up dangerously high.
  • The MythBusters tested a different variation of this trope, where it is stated that after spending a certain amount of time in a tanning bed, a woman ended up cooking her organs, and her lifespan afterward was reduced to just over a week. The myth was tested by placing a raw chicken in a tanning bed, but the device barely heated the bird enough for it to be considered significant, leading to the myth being declared as busted.
  • In the Only Fools and Horses episode "Tea For Three" this is played for comedy when brothers Del-Boy and Rodney are fighting over a girl they both like. Rodney goes to use their at-home solarium to try and get a tan but falls asleep in it and Del-Boy turns up the timer leaving Rodney with bad sunburn in an attempt to make Rodney look less appealing.
  • Reno 911!: In "The Tanning Booth Incident," Dangle oversleeps in a tanning bed and ends up sunburned so deep he's stuck in the hospital and unable to speak from the pain.
  • Seinfeld: The episode "The Wife" has Kramer (who's unable to sleep) go into a tanning bed to impress the family of his girlfriend Anna (who are all African-American). But he falls asleep while in the tanning bed. Later on, when Kramer meets Anna's family, they are all not impressed. Seeing how dark he's gotten, they all think he's doing blackface.
  • In an episode of That '70s Show, Donna and Jackie decide to get tans and fall asleep under a tanning lamp; the two end up getting sunburned as a result.

    Western Animation 
  • Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island: In one episode, Mr. Greenrind is just trying to have a relaxing day while Fred insists on making him the guest of honor at his new resort and theme park. As a result, he has Fred following him around and ruining everything, including Fred falling asleep at one point when Mr. Greenrind is in a tanning bed, resulting in him being in there long enough to be in burning, screaming pain.
  • Family Guy: In "The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou", Stewie gets a tan and becomes addicted to the "tan" lifestyle, even getting a tanning bed to maintain it. He tells Brian to let him out after 15 minutes, but Brian falls asleep on the couch and, by the time he wakes up, Stewie is badly burned.
    Brian: Uh... hey, buddy. I was just comin' to tell ya, it's time to get out.
  • The Simpsons: In "Treehouse of Horror XXXIII", this is one of the methods of death that Lisa writes down, and subsequently makes happen, in the Death Note parody segment.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Sun Bleached", SpongeBob and Patrick are trying to get tan enough to join a party only very tanned fish can go to, so they visit a tanning bed. Patrick goes first and gets perfectly tanned, but he leaves SpongeBob in the bed for two hours, resulting in SpongeBob being completely bleached by the light. He tries to cover this up by slathering himself in caramel, but when the caramel dries off and breaks, his sun-bleached form is revealed — and it actually amazes everyone, as he's considered the most hardcore tanner of them all.