Fake or bake? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Fake or bake?

Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tanning debate continues; color additive is the safest alternative

By Gregory Crofton

Tribune staff writer

A lot of people at South Shore like to be tan. It could be for a wedding, high school dance, before a vacation or for no reason other than they believe it makes them look healthy and feel good about themselves.

But over the long run, getting tanned repeatedly means an increased chance of skin cancer, premature wrinkles and sunspots.

“It’s a cumulative effect,” said Dr. Martin Salm, a plastic surgeon and dermatologist who works at Stateline. “A little bit here and there is OK.”

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A tan these days can come from three places: the sun, a tanning bed or a color additive applied to the skin. But a debate still rages over which is safer, the sun or a tanning bed. Here are some facts to think about:

— The sun is about 25 percent stronger at Tahoe than it is at sea level because the lake sits at 6,200 feet. Its concentration of ultraviolet rays is efficient at burning the top layer of skin.

— Tanning beds emit ultraviolet light different than those that come from the sun. It penetrates deeper into the skin, having a more powerful effect in the long term but not burning the skin as much.

In 2002, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added natural light and artificial light to a list of 228 substances linked to cancer.

“The NIEHS confirmed that ultraviolet light coming from a tanning bed is a carcinogen,” said Dr. Wendy Roberts, president-elect of the California Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery. “In a tanning bed you’re getting about eight times the amount of exposure you would if you stood out in the midday sun.”

The safest and a fast-becoming popular way to get a tan is manually with an airbrush. It doesn’t involve ultraviolet light. It relies on a color additive called dihydroxyacetone, a product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Derived from sugar, it reacts with amino acids in the skin to darken it. The product takes about 10 minutes to apply, several hours to work, and keeps people brown for 7 to 10 days. But it does not provide any protection from the sun like a tanning bed can.

“Some people come in and just get their legs done,” said Denise Mowlem, who has done airbrush tanning for Lasting Beauty Studio for three years. “We do a lot of weddings. Brides don’t want to get burned.”

Many salons now offer tanning beds and airbrushing, a session of either costs between $25 and $35. Rhonda Dobson, co-owner of Sunsational Tanning, said some of her clients get a little bit of both.

“It’s very popular with us,” said Dobson of the airbrush technique. “I have a red-headed friend who is addicted. She said to me, ‘This is the first time I’ve been tan in my life.’ “

Three salons in town said 60 to 70 percent of their customers are women.

“We do have people who come every day,” said Tammy Wright, owner of Tahoe Valley Tans. “One of the things people like is that they can come in and get some peace and quiet and some warmth, especially in the wintertime. They get 20 minutes away from their kids and job.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com