Investigators Uncover Tanning Salon Fallacies

Salon Sales Pitches Say Tanning Is Healthy

In an undercover investigation, 7NEWS Investigators found that tanning salons are not only targeting young women, but some are not telling the truth about the dangers of lying in the beds.

7NEWS Investigators took a hidden camera into area tanning salons and found that some clerks made sales pitches that sound like spending time on a tanning bed is absolutely safe and can actually provide essential health benefits.

Never did the clerks mention the dangers of skin cancer.

"Tanning is completely natural," a tanning clerk said. "You need to have it to live."

"The UVA is going to be safer, just because it's not the burning ray," another clerk said.

"They are all safe. It's all under a controlled environment," a third clerk said.

The sales pitches said tanning indoors is a great thing for someone's body with little risk to his or her health.

"If people frequent tanning salons, they're putting themselves at risk for tremendous UV exposure, which leads to skin cancer and has been proven to lead to skin cancer," said Denver dermatologist Dr. Joel Cohen.

Cohen chairs the education committee for a national surgeons group. He deals with skin cancer and its devastating effects.

"There are decades of research showing that UVB is associated with the formation of skin cancer," Cohen said. "There are newer studies showing that UVA is definitely involved with the formation of melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. And the two in combination is much more damaging."

7NEWS Investigators took hidden cameras into a number of area tanning salons asking questions about the safety of tanning.

They specifically chose some salons that advertise in high school newspapers, targeting kids.

"You're not burning at all. You're just slowly developing a base tan, or (if you're) tanning even on a regular basis, then nothing bad comes from that," one clerk said.

"They're potentially affecting their degree of getting a burn from sun exposure," Cohen said. "But they're certainly not protecting themselves against the harmful rays or UV rays that can cause, and in many cases, do cause skin cancer."

When asked if tanning contributes to skin cancer, Tech Tans owner, Marcus Brady, said, "It's been linked. It's never been proven."

Brady defended his co-owner of Tech-Tans, Rick Myers, who, in an undercover video, touts the safety of indoor tanning.

"If you tan regularly, it's not going to contribute to skin cancer?" Ferrugia asked Brady.

"That's right," Brady said.

"And you tell people that?" Ferrugia asked.

"Yes," Brady said.

"Some articles out there have said that it can actually help reduce skin cancer because there's vitamin D in the beds. So, that can actually help with that," a tanning clerk said.

Cohen said the clerk's sales pitch said sun is good for people.

"The problem is she's not referring to many of the studies that show UV radiation causes skin cancer," Cohen said.

While some comments seemed misinformed, Cohen said others are simply dangerous.

"The sun plays a factor to a point with different, you know, squamous cell and basal cell, which is more of a burn type of thing, but not life-threatening," said Myers, in the hidden-camera investigation.

Brady said he had no idea if squamous cell or basal cell carcinoma was life-threatening.

"Tanning doesn't contribute to (squamous or basal cell carcinoma)?" Ferrugia asked.

"No," Brady said.

"Many people die from squamous cell carcinoma and that's cumulative sun exposure, whether that's outdoor sunlight or tanning salon exposure," Cohen said.

"I would be amazed if you had any kind of malignant or melanoma or any kind of just slight cancers from that bed," a clerk said. "I guarantee you wouldn't, unless you already have some."

"Our first response is to laugh at these fallacies that are being disseminated to people who walk into tanning salons," Cohen said. "The reality is, this is very dangerous behavior."

Even as he defends the safety of tanning, Brady had a tough time explaining the waiver each of his customers has to sign.

"You are telling me here that you want me to sign something saying I can get increased skin cancer, and yet you're telling me that there is no increased risk. It doesn't mesh," Ferrugia said. "What that says is, you can increase your incidence of skin cancer."

"So? You can increase your incidence of drowning by drinking water," Brady said.

7NEWS Investigators visited nine separate tanning salons. 7NEWS talked with the owners of three salons including Elite Tans in Centennial and Darque Tan in Denver.

The owners claim that tanning in moderation is safe and that it contributes to vitamin D intake that keeps people healthy. They said tanning can help improve a person's mood during winter months and keep people from getting burned. Burning, they claim, is the main concern.

In each of the nine salons visited, 7NEWS Investigators got questionable information.

Cohen said that is simply dangerous, especially for kids.

Have a question or comment on this story? Or have a story idea or news tip? E-mail the Investigators or call us at 303-832-TIPS.

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