For Tanners, All That's Golden Isn't Good for You

For Tanners, All Thats Gold Isnt Good for You

Keeping that healthy, sun-kissed glow year-round just got a little bit pricier. Health care legislation passed by the Senate last week calls for a new, 10 percent tax on the use of tanning beds. Analysts expect the tax to net $2.7 billion over the next decade.

Salon owners greeted the news like a gloomy weather report -- but no one thinks a few extra dollars is going to come between diehard tanners and their bronzing. Legislators in favor of the new tax cited health concerns. The industry itself, however, couldn't be healthier.

"I think tanning beds became popular in part because you could ... continue the tan all year long," said Kate White, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine. "A tan makes you look sexy and glamorous, and thin, too."

In the past 30 years, indoor tanning has become hugely popular. A recent study by San Diego State University found that in some cities there are more tanning salons than McDonalds or Starbucks. Every day, 1 million people tan indoors. They spend $5 billion a year.

But indoor tanning does not come without controversy. This year, the World Health Organization classified tanning beds right up there with the sun as a definite cancer risk.

In a joint investigation with Cosmopolitan magazine, "20/20" visited tanning salons across the country with hidden cameras to see if employees would handle health risks with customers -- especially cancer.

Here's what one salon told us:

Q: I heard recently something about indoor tanning causing cancer -- is that something I have to worry about?

A: Well that's burning, it's the same as being outside. If you got a sunburn in here, it wouldn't be as bad as being outside.

"20/20"asked Chicago dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Jacob to review the hidden camera tapes. She said that getting a sunburn is bad no matter where you get it.

"20/20" and Cosmopolitan visited salons in five states and encountered similar misinformation when it came to serious risks.

Q: I've heard how you can get cancer from indoor tanning beds -- is that something I should be worried about?

A: Umm, I don't know -- it's up to the person. A lot of people go tanning ...

Q:Like, how often can I come, with my skin tone?

A: Um, It's up to you. You could come every day if you want, you just can't tan two times in one day. You could come every other day ...

Q: But it's safe to come every other day or every two days even if you're fair skinned?

A: Yeah ...

At one tanning salon, the clerk sets the tanning bed to run for more than twice the recommended length. Our tester questions her.

Q: ...[the] recommended exposure time for fair skin, says three minutes.

A: I mean that won't give you any coloring at all.

'I Didn't Even Think About It'

Jacob found the exchange disturbing.

"Well, that's frightening," said Jacob. "Firstly, she is showing her the bed and saying that, 'No, don't even bother with the three minutes, you won't get a tan. I'm going to put you in for more than double that time.' The other thing is, she told us she could come in every day for tanning -- that is really going to damage the skin much quicker, and if you can do that indefinitely and they're giving those as guidelines to the patients, it's very, very scary."

"The people that I see that still go tanning are in their late teens, early 20s. They know -- 'Well, I've heard it's probably not so good for my skin, but since I'm young, it's OK,'" said Jacob.

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