(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, July 26, 2006)
“Dana” works at a chain tanning salon in OC. She spoke to us by phone during her evening shift.
I’ve had the hardest time getting anybody to talk to me. People would agree to talk and then hang up two questions in. Even you would only speak anonymously. Why is everybody so skittish?
Lately, there’s been a lot of bad stuff about tanning in the media. Everybody’s afraid of getting attacked. Personally, I don’t wanna get fired. If my manager comes in, I’ll have to hang up.
Fair enough. What sort of training is involved to do this?
Well, it’s mostly hands-on. Basic sales and cleaning the beds.
You don’t need to learn how to run the equipment?
The beds themselves are computer-controlled. It’s all automated. We need to learn to input the computer codes, but we’re not actually operating the beds.
Tanning is a fairly controversial thing, and a lot of people say it’s unsafe. Do you worry about getting cancer from being around those tanning beds all day?
No, we’re completely safe outside the beds. The customers are in their own, private rooms. You only get cancer from direct exposure, in the beds or in the sun. We use two kinds of machines. The UVB has a 20-minute limit, those are older and have stronger intensity, so you’re more prone to burn. We also use the UVA. Those are [in] European stand-up machines. They have a 12-minute limit and they give you more of a bronzing or browning. They’re less intense, and they aren’t so cancerous, but they’re still bad for you. But it’s still better for you than tanning in the sun. In the sun, you can’t control the intensity. You can get a sunburn even on an overcast day. Here, at least it’s tightly controlled.
To work there, you probably have to stay pretty tan yourself. Is it mandatory for you to tan every week?
We can get free tans here on our off days, but lately I’ve been going to the beach more, because it’s been sunny. We do like to keep a nice glow, to promote our services.
I saw a thing on one of the local news shows about teenagers with “tanorexia,” a condition where they’ll tan compulsively. Have you encountered kids like that? [Chuckles.]
Tanorexia and tan-o-holics and all these other things, I think they’re just words the media makes up to scare people. We don’t tan anybody under 18, unless their parents sign a consent form. Maybe if there’s a dance or something, people will come in a few times before that and get extra tan so they’ll be nice and bronzed for the event. But most of the people we see are between 20 and 40.
But there is a new study, published in the April issue of The Archives of Dermatology, that says tanning can actually become physically addictive. Have you encountered people who seem genuinely hooked?
We do see people like that. There’s a lady who comes in here almost every day. She’ll miss a day sometimes, but she’s been coming in constantly since 2001.
Wow. Does she look like a Shar-Pei, now?
Well, she’s pretty wrinkly, as you’d imagine. She looks pretty bad. I don’t know how she hasn’t gotten cancer yet, to be honest. There was a guy who was coming in all the time, and he was really dark. Eventually the manager had to take him aside and suggest he try a lower intensity bed. There are people who are tanning twice per day. They’ll go out and get a suntan, then come in here and get an indoor tan the same day. Yeah . . . tanning is addictive.