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Tanning salons fill as break approaches

March 6, 2003

By Mary Matkin

Spring break is right around the corner, and students are thinking about shedding clothes and ridding themselves of their pale winter skin in preparation for warmer weather. Local tanning salons are ready for customers, but students must keep certain factors in mind.

Dr. James Mason, a Waco dermatologist, advises students who visit tanning salons to keep their skin tone in mind. Someone who is fair-skinned will burn more easily and is more prone to skin cancer and therefore should limit exposure.

Tanning salon employees say they are aware of the risks and try to work in their clients' best interests.

'The first visit is free,' Treavor Nguyen, Sun Zone Tanning manager, said. 'We use that time to evaluate the customer's skin type and give our recommendation for time limit and the best lotions. I feel it's safer tanning here than going outside because it takes less time, and you aren't exposed to as many rays as the sun.'

But Mason said tanning beds use the same ultraviolet light that emits from the sun, essentially causing the same amount of damage.

'It's a fallacy to think that tanning beds are safer when they really aren't,' Mason said. 'Our skin is like a glass. It can take only so much sun before it is full, and then you get problems like cancer.'

Premature aging is a sign of overexposure to UV-A rays and usually shows up in a person's late 30s.

Mason said UV-A rays penetrate deeper than UV-B since they can damage collagen and elastin, causing the skin to dry out and become leathery.

Mason also warned students to make sure tanning beds are cleaned.

'I've had people come in with fungal infections that they thought were from tanning beds,' he said.

Overtanning can cause sunburn, fever blisters and can even flare up herpes. Anyone who tans is advised to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, mild cleansers and moisturizer.

Brandon Awalt, a Dallas senior, has tanned about three times a week during the winter and spring months for the last three years. 'I tan so I don't look so pale, especially for spring break,' Awalt said. He said he is not concerned about how it will affect his skin when he gets older.

'I think [tanning beds] should be illegal,' Dr. Jeffery Leffel, professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine, said in an article on the ABC news Web site.