Students tan despite risk

By Frank Krolicki

Spring break comes once a year, but with the help of a tanning bed, many students are making sure that post-vacation-like tan lasts year-round – even with the possibility of negative side effects.

The local Yellow Pages list more than 25 locations under “tanning salons,” and according to salon managers, students are making use of them more than ever.

Mary Wojnar, manager of the Electric Beach Tanning Salon in Champaign, said business has consistently increased over the 13 years that it has been open.

“Tanning is more and more a part of students’ personal care,” Wojnar said. “It goes along with exercising, doing nails or anything else someone would do for personal enhancement.”

She mentioned that a person achieves color in different ways, such as ultraviolet (UV) and UV-free tanning.

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    UV tanning, done in a tanning bed, tries to duplicate what happens when skin is exposed to the sun to produce a natural color. The UV-free process involves strictly artificial color that is applied to the skin in spray or lotion form, Wojnar explained.

    “Some people think UV tanning is bad for you, but I believe that moderate exposure is actually beneficial,” she said. “People just shouldn’t take it too far to the point where they end up looking like a leather handbag.”

    Wojnar said she does not recommend UV-free tanning because it often contains many chemicals, and it is uncertain how different bodies can react to them when absorbed through the skin.

    However, Wojnar said UV tanning is not for everyone.

    “Very fair-skinned people or those with a family history of skin cancer shouldn’t tan,” Wojnar said. “If you are fair-skinned, your body is just not made to produce the coloring agent necessary to get a dark tan.”

    She said mostly female students tan, but that the amount of males is always increasing.

    “On an average day we’ll get about 3 percent guys, which is still a lot more than we used to get when we first opened,” she said. “But that percentage usually increases a lot right before spring break, when they want to get tan before going out of town.”

    Jeremiah Baughman, a Parkland College student who tans at least once a week, said he began tanning in high school and has done it ever since.

    “I did it first before prom because all of the guys in high school did it,” Baughman said. “Plus, it was winter, I was pale, and I thought it would make me look more attractive.”

    He said he would continue to tan even if it did not darken his skin because of the relaxing feeling that comes with the process.

    Brenda Kleiss, an employee at Classic Tan in Champaign, said while student customers have been visiting the salon more frequently to stay tan during the winter months, she would not advise tanning more than two to three times in a week.

    “You start to see the problems when people don’t know when to stop,” Kleiss said. “It is definitely not something that should be done every day.”

    But according to a February 2005 Consumer Reports article titled, “Indoor Tanning: Unexpected Dangers,” most salons will not limit the amount of times per week the expected 30 million American customers will be able to tan this year.

    In a survey of nearly 300 tanning facilities nationwide, the report states that 75 percent said even beginners could tan as often as they liked.

    While Illinois has tanning parlor regulations meant to ensure customer safety, about 50 percent of states do not, and according to the article, the existing regulations are often weakly enforced.

    And a September 2004 article from the Mayo Clinic’s official Web site states that although tanning can be soothing, “there’s no such thing as a safe tan. Both sunlight and tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging. Exposure to UV radiation – whether from sunlight or tanning beds – damages your skin.”

    Baughman said that while he is aware of the risks, it would not stop him from tanning.

    “I have always thought of it just as any other bad habit, such as smoking – it might harm you but it might not,” he said.

    Wojnar said that people who tan in moderation should not be worried.

    She mentioned that she has seen cases in which UV tanning has even kept negative skin conditions such as psoriasis, characterized by dry, red patches on the skin, under control.

    When done correctly, Wojnar said tanning can also serve as a good opportunity to ensure a relaxing break in the day for students with hectic schedules.

    “A lot of times people who come in just want to have a nap where they can get toasty warm,” she said. “Once in a while I’ll even have to knock on the tanning bed door to wake them up.”

    But Molly Werner, sophomore in business, has been tanning for four years and said having to be in an enclosed space could detract a great deal of people from the process.

    “Some people just don’t like the way it feels,” Werner said. “It depends on your personality and what you’re used to.”

    Yet Baughman said he does not feel there is a certain type of student who tans.

    “I have seen a little bit of everyone in the salon – from straight to gay, nerd to prep, football player to college dropout,” Baughman said.

    Werner said she had encountered only one problem in her tanning experience.

    “It’s very addictive,” she said. “Once you tan you don’t want to stop.”