In search of the golden glow

As darkness sets in, Juneau residents turn to the artificial sun of tanning beds

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006

With the dark days of winter looming, it's time to ... get a tan?

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"Juneau makes you white," said Jim Williams, a contractor preparing Saturday for a five-minute tan at Sunkissed in the Mendenhall Mall. He hoped to bronze a bit before an upcoming trip to Montana.

"I wanted to be tan for the elk." he said. "No, seriously, I'm going elk hunting."

Williams tans twice a year - usually just before leaving Juneau on vacation. Like Williams, many Juneauites who tan typically do so just before a trip. Salon owners agree - it's what helps keep the winter industry alive.

The local indoor tanning fad appears to be booming as two businesswomen prepare to open shop and offer artificial sunlight, with all the benefits and risks. The shops are slated to open within the next two weeks in downtown, making a total of five salons in Juneau - a number up from previous years. It is just one small segment of a growing $5 billion U.S. indoor tanning industry that provides tans to 30 million Americans each year, according to a 2006 "State of the Industry Report" released annually by the industry trade magazine, "Looking Fit."

It's also too soon to tell whether the community can support the increase in salons.

"Time will tell," Tyra Smith said Saturday. She has owned Northern Hot Spots near the Nugget Mall for the past eight years, and doesn't recall a time when there has been so many salons in the area.

Jeanne Mungle, who is expanding The Alaska Soap and Candle Co. to include tanning booths, thinks there is enough interest in the vanity business in Juneau during winter and summer months to keep all salons busy. Winter traffic is expected to be mostly Juneau residents wanting a golden base before their tropical vacations, Carrie Baxter Graham said Friday from a Seattle industry trade show. She hopes to open Paradise Beach Tanning and Travel Salon within the next two weeks. The popularity of vacation pre-tans was a significant reason why Graham decided to go into the business.

"I am doing the tanning and the travel (because) it goes hand in hand. When you go traveling, usually you tan before you go," she said.

Dark, wintry days in Juneau also mean some people will turn to tanning as a way to make them feel better.

"I think it outweighs the damage to the skin, because you are filling up your mood. It Is a way to warm (your) whole body up," said JoAnne Bell-Graves, a paramedical esthetician at Advanced Skin Care.

Rene Ritter, an state worker, likes to tan as a getaway and a chance to be rejuvenated.

"I like the heat; I like the color. It's a little mini vacation," she said on her way from a session at Sunkissed on Saturday afternoon.

Mungle says she expects more business during the summer months, particularly from cruise ship workers. Frequent requests from these temporary visitors are what inspired her to start offering tanning, she said.

Both salons are trying to cater to the downtown crowd - which can be a mix of tourism workers in port for a short time or state employees on a lunch break - by investing in beds that can give the same tan for less time. Currently there is just one salon downtown, Sunburst on the Wharf.

Prices differ from shop to shop but the price for one tanning session begins at roughly $6 and goes up from there. A session can last from one to 20 minutes, depending on the type of tanning bed a salon has and a person's skin type.

Indoor tanning, however, does not come without risks. Dr. Greg Dostal, a Juneau plastic surgeon, routinely receives inquiries from patients wanting to know if it's OK to go tanning.

"From a medical standpoint, the American Medical Association has condemned tanning booths," he said.

Dostal adheres to the AMA's view, but says that most people don't live in the Arctic, where exposure to sun in winter is limited. It's a matter of weighing the risks, he said.

"The biggest concern I have around here is I see a lot of young people coming out brown like roasted peanuts."

And exposure to ultraviolet light in a tanning bed increases a person's risk of skin cancer and causes premature aging of the skin.

He warns that effects on the skin are cumulative - just because it looks repaired after a burn doesn't mean you are starting from scratch the next time you venture out into the sun.

As far as heading to the tanning salons to give you an energy boost, Dostal said there may be merit to that.

The artificial light can make someone feel better, he said, however, "I think there is a far difference between ambient light and getting a tan."

He said people have lived in areas much farther north with darker winters than Juneau for centuries and "they seemed to survive quite well up there."

"It may make you feel better, but everything in life is compromise. You take a risk by jumping behind the car wheel. If you take a drag on a cigarette, you should know the risk," he said. "Be aware that (tanning) is a health risk."

Many of Bell-Graves' clients are people who have suffered significant sun damage over the years and now have sunspots and pigmentation problems. Tanning salons have helped her business, she said.

"I laser and do anti-aging peeling and so it actually gives me business when people tan."

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at

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