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Trouble for Tanning Salons?


Will business at tanning salons decline in the wake of a new research study that found ultraviolet-A--the rays most commonly used indoors--as important as UV-B in causing the deadly skin cancer melanoma? "Tanning is like drinking, smoking and sex," says Nick Romano, owner of TANtalizing Tanning Center in Glendale.

"We know all four can be bad for us"--even so, people aren't about to stop.

Two million people a year tan in about 21,000 salons, paying $4 to $12 per session, says Joe Schuster, a spokesman for Suntanning Assn. for Education, a trade group based in Frederick, Md.

The study pointing the finger at UV-A, conducted on fish and reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "by itself won't have a major impact on how people tan because the industry has been responding to similar information for some time," Schuster says.

As concern about ultraviolet light exposure and skin cancer has risen over the years, the tanning salon industry has begun to preach a gospel of moderation, inspired largely by the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates sunlamps, and by state laws, which are becoming more common.

Customers are routinely advised to assess their skin type, start slowly and not to exceed recommended exposure times, says Romano. At the entrance to the tanning rooms at TANtalizing, an informational poster is prominently displayed. The poster cautions pregnant women to first consult their doctor and alerts all clients to a long list of medications that make the skin more photosensitive, such as certain antibiotics.

Since 1988, California state law has required salon owners to provide protective eye wear, warn customers of potential side effects and provide a timer, among other regulations, says Tim Peppel of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. "A bill before the governor would allow the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to inspect the facilities of those (tanning salons) licensed as cosmetologists or barbers--a small pool of the total," he adds.

FDA regulations, introduced in 1979 and amended in 1985, require sunlamp manufacturers to meet design standards, affix a prominent label warning of overexposure hazards, submit information on the units and follow other rules, says Sharon Snider, FDA spokeswoman. FDA officials visit tanning salons and have seized substandard equipment.

Despite state and federal regulations, "there are not enough enforcement or penalties," says Dr. Mitchel Goldman, UC San Diego assistant clinical professor of medicine and dermatology and a La Jolla dermatologist.

Most tanning beds in use today give off 70 parts UV-A light to 1 part UV-B light, Schuster says, and are programmed to shut off after 20 minutes or less. A tanning salon "offers a controlled environment in which to obtain a tan without the variables found outdoors," he says. "We can't say the word safe," says Schuster, adding that it is against FDA guidelines. Using a sunlamp, counters the FDA's Snider, "exposes people to the same hazards as outdoor sunning, including premature skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. The FDA position is there is no such thing as a safe tan."

"We're not saying tanning is for everyone," Schuster says. Nor is he suggesting indoor tanning can turn everyone bronze. People who do not tan well outdoors probably won't do so indoors, he says.

Most salon owners hope for customers with attitudes like that of Chris Giannotti, a long-time client at TANtalizing. "I don't want to be white, but I don't want to lay in the sun," says Giannotti, who tans once a week for 30 minutes. Hearing about the UV-A study, she says, won't change her habit. "I'd be concerned if I did it more often."

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