Nov. 14, 2004 -- -- It's hard for anyone, let alone teenagers, to escape the barrage of images of perfectly toned and tanned bodies put forth by movies, magazines and television. Some teens can't wait to get to the beach and instead turn to the $5 billion-a-year tanning industry to darken their tone.
"It kinda started with celebrities, I guess," said 19-year-old Robyn Mendolla. "Their golden tans, they look great all year long, I kind of followed it."
Mendolla and 19-year-old friend Cindy Morenom have been tanning together since they were 16.
"I think it's better to lay in a tanning bed for 10 minutes than to lay out in the sun for three hours," explained Morenom.
"I feel better when I'm tanned," Mendolla said. "It makes me feel more attractive."
"I guess girls these days feel like being tan as, you know, as being pretty for guys," she concluded.
Those sentiments are not lost on members of the tanning business, which recognizes teens as their fastest-growing consumer group.
"Tanning salons are known for advertising near high schools and near colleges and they also give a lot of discounts," said Kara Jessella, beauty editor for Teen Vogue.
Even so, tanning salon owners like Sal Mastropole, who owns the Sun Factory in Nutley, N.J., said owners like him aren't irresponsible about doing business with teens.
"We don't just put somebody in [a tanning] bed and tell them to tan everyday," Mastropole explained. "We advise our clients to use lotions, we give them a tanning package ... we estimate their skin tone."
But critics say any attempt to market tanning to underage consumers is bad business, and dangerous.
"Teens, their skin is particularly vulnerable to the cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation," warned Dr. James Spencer, co-chairman of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.
For that reason, 25 states now have some form of regulations restricting or prohibiting minors from visiting tanning salons. Yet even though many states are taking action to protect teens from the dangers of tanning, there is still no federally regulated law in place.
The American Academy of Dermatology has caught on to the teen tanning trend, and responded by releasing some sobering images.
One is of a 19-year-old girl who seems to have that perfect skin some teens crave. But shot with an ultraviolet camera, it becomes clear that she does not, instead suffering from massive amounts of sun damage.
In an effort to reach teens more directly, earlier this summer Teen Vogue reported on the death of one of their own staff members who began tanning when she was a teen.
"She was diagnosed with melanoma at 26 and she died right after Christmas when she turned 29," said Teen Vogue's Kara Jessella. "She was a sun worshipper ...went to tanning salons ... it was very sad."
As sad as it may be for Jessella, it's apparently not enough to keep Mendolla away from a tanning booth.
"Of course I know it's not good for me," she said. "I guess I'm 19, I don't think anything can damage my skin now."
Mable Chan filed this report for Good Morning America Weekend Edition.