Good Luck Getting a Tan These Days

TAGS: UVA, UVB exposure, sun burn, dark skin, sun tan, tanning bed, tanning salon, Just Sayin', Skip Hill

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If you use a tanning salon because you feel brown fat looks sexier than white fat, do me a favor: the next time you are waiting for the high-school girl behind the counter to sign up a new member before putting you in a tanning bed, pay attention to how many people walk in and out and actually have a tan that anyone would notice. You should quickly find the answer to be pretty much no one.

I have used a tanning bed since I was about 16 years old. I know, I know — you think it’s dumb. However, like smoking, using performance-enhancing drugs, smoking pot, drinking from Friday to Sunday nights, or being a swinger, it isn’t anyone’s business what an adult does if it doesn’t impact anyone else. Since I was young and wanted to be a bodybuilder, a tan has always been very appealing to me. I guess we all have our shit.


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Though I have used a tanner most of my life, I still don’t want to die from skin cancer, so I take precautions like having my skin checked yearly and not tanning any more than I feel is necessary, which is typically about two or three times a week.

I had a tanning bed in my home for about 10 years, but within the last few years have started to go back to a commercial tanning salon so that I could free up space in my garage for cars, motorcycles, and other adult toys. I also freaked out when my last tanner, that was pulling 50 amps, caught on fire while I was in it — twice. (Okay, it didn’t technically catch on fire as much as it was smoking noxious fumes. I not only had to get out of the tanning bed quickly, but I couldn’t even tolerate the smoke in the garage and had to open the garage door naked.)

27243670 - young muscular man at solarium in beauty salon

 Photo credit: Jasminko Ibrakovic © 123rf.com

While waiting one day in the salon, I couldn’t help but notice that no one entering or leaving had anything remotely close to a tan. The girl behind the counter had an okay tan, but I chalked that up to the fact that she probably tanned daily because she worked there. And she had dark hair and dark eyes; she was hardly a fair-skinned Norwegian girl. It got me thinking about how the tanning industry works and how it has progressed since I started tanning over 30 years ago. When I started tanning, everyone had a pretty good tan it seemed. That was the appeal for me to go (and keep going) to the tanning salon.

Tanning beds are different these days. The bulbs are far more UVA and far less UVB. This is supposed to be safer, and thank God the government has stepped in yet again to save us from ourselves and impose stricter and stricter regulations on the tanning industry over the years. I mean, far be it for me to make decisions for myself. In addition to regulating the beds and bulbs, the time limit for tanning exposure has dropped considerably. It was not uncommon for a tanning salon in the 80s to allow a session of 25 or 30 minutes. Over the years this dropped to roughly 20 minutes, 15 minutes, and now you would have a hard time finding a modern tanning salon having anything over 12-minute or 10-minute sessions. The stand-up tanner I like to use at my salon has a max time of eight minutes and even I (who typically is so tan that people mistake my ethnicity) wasn’t getting much color and had to change to another bed.


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I do not blame the tanning salon for this, however, because this is out of their control. Under law, they cannot allow someone to exceed the max time for each session. What I do blame them for is attempting to sell lotions that do not work, and they do this with misleading information. It is basically a scam, and though the kids behind the counter don’t like when I do it, I take every opportunity I can to talk people out of buying a $110 bottle of tanning lotion. Obviously, up-sells like lotion are a huge percentage of profit for tanning salons and the people behind the counters likely get a commission from their sales. Oh well. They don’t work.

What does work? Old tanners. If you want a good tan these days, you have two main options:

1. Go outside and spend time in the sun.

The sun gets a bad reputation because we always focus on negatives it seems. The sun is not inherently “bad.” Overexposure (burning) is bad for the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer. Sun exposure is actually healthy in moderation because it allows the body to make vitamin D, which is incredibly important for the immune system. I feel there is a direct correlation between less sun exposure these days due to the “sun scare” that has been so prevalent in the last 20 years and decreasing levels of vitamin D in most people. My doctor was surprised when he saw my vitamin D levels were in healthy ranges and stated that this is uncommon these days.

2. Use a tanner in a small town.

You might wonder what a small town has to do with getting a better tan, but it is quite simple and logical: small town tanning salons don’t typically have the expensive modern “space machine” tanners, and instead have the old-school tanners that are 20 or 30 years old. I went back to Michigan in the spring and was prepping for a show so I went to a tanner there, and within two minutes of being in the stand-up tanner I could hardly tolerate the heat. After a 15-minute session, I came out and the lady commented that I must have gotten five shades darker. The next day I had a mild pink hue that I haven’t had from a tanner in years. I was dark as hell after only this one session. Suffice to say, I miss the old-school tanners of yesteryear.

Obviously, there is an inherent risk in using tanners and even more in using older tanning beds due to the higher UVB and longer exposure times. However, there are risks with everything we do, and most of the people that chastise me for tanning for so many years smoke, drink, eat like shit, don’t ever exercise, are overweight (some morbidly obese), and should probably pay more attention to themselves than to what I am doing. It’s my business, not yours. Just like your business of being grossly overweight and having a face resembling that of a 20-year Pall Mall smoker is your business. MYOB. Just Sayin’.

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