When Janice Brittain was 11, she went outside wearing sunscreen for 30 minutes and still got blisters on her shoulders from the sun because her skin was so fair. So her mom took her to a tanning salon.
“She’s like, go lay in that bed and you’re going to tan and it’ll make it so you don’t burn as easy,” Brittain said. “I was 11 and that made sense to me.”
At 15, Brittain started working alongside her mom in a Wichita tanning salon and now, at 21, she is the assistant manager under her mom at B-Tan Tanning Co. at 760 N. Tyler Road.
“I grew up around it, and it’s a big part of my life,” Brittain said.
But Brittain doesn’t like to tan as much as other employees she has worked with. During the winter, she said, she prefer to stay a more natural, lighter color, following a trend in fashion that some commentators say has brought fair skin back into style. Brittain isn’t the only one who is tanning less than people did just a few years ago.
A new study released last week by the JAMA Dermatology journal has found that about 2 million fewer Americans were using tanning salons in 2013 compared with 2010. That’s a decrease from 5.5 percent of all adults to 4.2 percent, and from 8.6 percent of women to 6.5 percent.
The decrease held true among both light and heavy users of indoor tanning, as well as the young and old.
While this is good news in the eyes of dermatologists, according to the study’s lead author, health economist Gery Guy, it isn’t a complete victory.
“There is also bad news,” said Guy, who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There are 10 million people who still use (tanning beds).”
There are several leading explanations for the drop, according to Guy. One is that people have become more educated, as several studies came out during the test period linking tanning salons to increased risk of cancer, and the World Health Organization labeled it a carcinogen.
A handful of states recently passed laws banning tanning salons for children under 18, California being the first to do so in 2011. While these laws are probably too recent to be fully reflected in the data, Guy said, they may have contributed to the public perception that indoor tanning is dangerous.
There are some potential economic reasons as well. The Affordable Care Act in 2010 included a provision that taxed tanning services 10 percent and also included monetary incentives for doctors to provide skincare counseling that recommends avoiding tanning salons. Last year new regulations required tanning beds to be labeled with their risks.
All of these changes have put stress on the tanning industry in Wichita, according to Jenny Lynn, the owner of four Caribbean Sun Tanning salons in Wichita.
“There are fewer competitors now because when a lot of owners, if they think there is going to be a change in the industry, a lot of people don’t want to mess with it and they get out,” Lynn said.
Lynn and several other Wichita tanning salons said they’re doing well financially and may have even benefited from the decrease in competition. Lynn attributes her success, in part, to providing better education about UV exposure than competitors.
“If they go in and don’t know what to do or what kind of skin type they are and burn their first time, you can pretty much guarantee that they’re not coming back.” Lynn said.
Brittain, the assistant manager at B-Tan, said she still tans, especially in the summer, as a preventative health measure, so she won’t burn. But Guy said that won’t protect her from skin cancer.
“A base tan is not a safe tan,” Guy said. “A base tan provides no protection from future sun exposure.”
As The Eagle reported last year, many tanners in Wichita have switched to spray tans in recent years, which are safer. Brittain said B-Tan customers can walk into a booth and get a machine spray in 10 minutes or they can get a customized spray in 15 to 25 minutes.
Many of her customers don’t plan far enough ahead for their pool parties and vacations, Brittain said, so they opt for a spray tan.
“I’ve had people come in three days before they’re supposed to be leaving for a vacation and say, ‘Oh my god I’ve got to get dark right now,’” Brittain said.
Brittain said she thinks most women her age tan indoors. The largest share of indoor tanners are college-aged, according to Guy, who said colleges could further reduce indoor tanning by making it more difficult for students to tan near campus.