Tan bans, paler proms

A new law just made hitting the bronzing bed before the dance a little harder. Many say it doesn't go far enough.

Posted: June 05, 2014

Before her senior prom at Germantown Academy in April, Allison Moise had a fairly typical to-do list: Find the perfect dress, figure out what to do with her hair, and hit the tanning salon for some unseasonable bronze color - a school-dance ritual she has stuck to since she was 15 or 16 years old.

But while nervous dates and inedible catered meals may never go away, pre-prom tanning is one tradition that could be on its way out in Pennsylvania.

Legislation signed by Gov. Corbett in May prohibiting tanning for those under 16 - and requiring parental consent for 17-year-olds ("the prom carve-out") - brings the state in line with at least 30 others that have enacted similar restrictions.

Moise, 18, approves.

"If I wasn't allowed to tan when I was 16, then I would've never started," she said. She doesn't regret her time in the tanning booth, but she doesn't plan to continue in the future, either. "I'm fully aware that it's really harmful, and my parents are not supportive of it at all."

Regulation of tanning for minors has been a hot topic in statehouses across the country: Since 2010, at least 13 states have passed legislation on the subject. In Pennsylvania, three different bills were introduced on the subject last year.

The one that passed, drafted by Bucks County Republican Rep. Frank Farry, includes requiring tanning salons to register with the state, post warnings about the dangers of tanning, and present each customer with a written warning to be signed before hitting the bed.

Bruce Brod, legislative chairman of the Pennsylvania Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery and a clinical professor of dermatology at University of Pennsylvania, said the change was overdue. Brod and his colleagues have been advocating for such legislation for 15 years; in the intervening years, the quantitative evidence of tanning's harm has mounted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23.4 percent of high school girls use indoor tanning. Those who use tanning services before age 35 face a 59 percent higher risk of melanoma.

"You're talking about selling radiation to kids," Brod said, emphasizing that indoor tanning is addictive. It releases endorphins, in a manner similar to opiates, he said. "The World Health Organization lists the light in tanning booths as a class-one carcinogen, in the same category as asbestos, plutonium, and cigarette smoke."

Among those in the industry, opinion varies.

Craig D'Amico, who owns Tropic Tanning in Philadelphia, Doylestown, and New Hope, thinks the law is overblown - and said it will affect his bottom line.

"Pretty soon, you'll need to show your ID to be in the sun, to go on the beaches," he said.

About 20 percent of his clients are teenagers; they start coming in March to prepare for prom season. Sometimes, he said, their parents tan with them.

"They're just prom tanners," he said. "I think they're blowing out of proportion how many teens tan. And they'll go to the beach this summer and burn."

Not everyone is concerned: Susan Davids of Old City Tans said the new legislation wouldn't affect her much, since Philadelphia passed its own laws on tanning for minors last year.

And Nicole Albergo, owner of 360 Degree Tans in Wayne, supports the new restrictions.

"I have kids, so I agree that at age 17 you should have a parent come in and sign," she said. "The parents know. The kids aren't abusing it. I feel more comfortable that way."

Her business is a mix of tanning beds and "organic" airbrushing, so she said any restrictions on UV tanning will likely just encourage young customers to seek out spray tans, already popular with teens and college students.

"This prom season has been crazy with airbrushes," she said. She donates gift certificates for the service for local after-prom parties.

Albergo's outlook is tempered by the fact that she has many friends who own salons in New Jersey. Their businesses are going strong even after that state raised the minimum age for tanning from 14 to 17 last year, spurred by allegations that Nutley, N.J., resident Patricia Krentcil (dubbed in the tabloids "Tan Mom") had taken her 5-year-old daughter tanning.

Katie Sheldrick of Washington Township reluctantly gave in and drove her daughter to a salon for a pre-prom spray tan this year, which her daughter paid for herself.

"I felt bad for her, because all her other friends were doing it, and she's a hormonal, emotionally charged teenager who feels like the world's against her," said Sheldrick. "I gave in. Not that I think it was the right thing to do."

She's concerned about what chemicals go into the bronzing spritz, and more concerned about the message that tanning promotes.

"No 17-year-old is happy with the way they look, and they always want to make themselves look better. I think tanning salons promoting it to teens is wrong."

Moise said she started tanning as a high school freshman to clear up the skin on her back. Her mother had resisted, but eventually relented to ease Moise's insecurities. (Brod, by the way, said there's no evidence that tanning reduces acne.)

Since then, she has tanned sporadically at her gym. Before a semiformal or prom, she'll sign up for a monthly membership at a salon. Sometimes her paler friends join her.

"Even when my friends go, they're like, 'I look better when I'm tan.' Which is true, but you've got to also think about the consequences," Moise said.

Legislation can make a difference: The rate of tanning-bed use among teens was 42 percent lower in states with age restrictions and parental permission laws, according to the CDC. However, researchers also found that such laws often go unenforced.

State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R., Lebanon) said Pennsylvania's new law is a start, but it doesn't go far enough. She introduced a different bill that banned tanning-bed use by anyone younger than 18, prom tradition be damned.

"When you're an adult, you can make your own stupid decisions," she said.

But she's very concerned about teenagers. "I had a press conference on my bill, and there was a couple there, a man and woman, whose only daughter died of melanoma when she was in her late 20s. She only started using a tanning bed when she was 17."


smelamed@phillynews.com

215-854-5053

@samanthamelamed

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