Despite heated warnings, deep tans are still stylish


June 28, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer Ocean City correspondent Audrey Haar contributed to this article.

The ozone layer is thinning, melanoma rates are soaring and dermatologists warn sun fetishists of the risk of turning into sun-dried prunoids around age 40.

No tan is considered safe these days by skin specialists. But that doesn't stop the fashion-conscious from baking to a fashionable, often year-round, golden brown.

The tanning habit, associated with good health, good looks and a vigorous life, is hard to kick -- especially, it seems, among the young.

Check out the bronze goddesses at Color Me Tan on Harford Road, where the future means the weekend and the young employees would rather skip the prom than be a public pasty-face.

Besides, says Stefanie Andersen, a recent graduate of Roland Park Country School who spends 30 minutes daily on a tanning bed (the equivalent of about six hours in the sun), "You only live once."

"When you're tan, you feel better about yourself," says Kelly Kremer, 19. Like Ms. Andersen, Ms. Kremer works at Color Me Tan, where in peak, base-tan-building season, 350 clients use 17 tanning units daily, and where tanning accelerators and enhancers are sold, but sun blocks aren't.

A tan "gives you more confidence," Ms. Kremer says. And when she's not tan, "I feel really down about myself."

State-of-the-art sunscreens and aggressive public health campaigns against the hazards of solar self-charging have altered the sunning habits of many.

But the anti-tanning message has penetrated the public consciousness just on a skin-deep level, says Dr. Michael Pertschuk, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Human Appearance. Like smoking, tanning is a bad habit that involves "a tremendous amount of denial . . . people tend to screen out information they don't want to hear."

An unscientific sampling of tanning salon habitues and Ocean City sun worshipers underscores his impressions. On a recent ++ weekend, Carrie Buckiso, 20, for example, was enjoying her only day off from her waitress job by perfecting her tan on the Ocean City beach. But that's not the only day. "I'm usually out every day. I don't go to work till 3," she says.

The junior at California University in Pennsylvania refuses to wear sunscreens. "Just tanning oil. No sunscreen, never. . . . I feel if I wear sunscreen that you won't get anything."

Even those who comprehend the hazards of sunning shrug them off. "If you don't want to be exposed to skin cancer, live in a closet," says Ed Spilman, who with his wife Lynne owns two tanning salons, including Color Me Tan, and manages a third.

A burnished body looks better than a fair one and can turn an introvert into a social butterfly, Mr. Spilman says. Tanning salons are also great places to meet the opposite sex, he says. (His tanning clientele is about 60 percent women and 40 percent men, he says.)

Plans for speed-tanning?

Mr. Spilman claims he is too fidgety to lie for long on a tanning bed, but plans to build his own, high-powered bed for quick tanning hits.

Some people of color also consider darkening their natural skin tone to be a sign of health and beauty. Although high levels of melanin generally protect dark-skinned people from cancer, they are susceptible to damage from overexposure to the sun, says Baltimore dermatologist Dr. Larry Gaston. "Especially light skinned blacks. Lots of people go to the Bahamas -- even in the summer -- to have a darker look," he says.

"It looks healthier, they feel. They tell me they can't stand being pale; they have to get some color.

"Even though blacks are not that susceptible to cancer, we still recommend sunscreens to prevent burning -- and wrinkling."

Even dolls tan

Even as health experts caution against soaking up too many UVA and UVB rays, popular culture still lauds a good tan. Splash 'N' Tan Kids, a discontinued line of Cabbage Patch dolls, used to tan in the sun, and Sun Sensation Barbie still does. On Saturdays through July, contestants, no doubt well-browned, will vying in Ocean City to become finalists in an international beauty pageant sponsored by Hawaiian Tropic, a manufacturer of tanning products.

And sunless tanning, although an alternative to the real thing, nevertheless upholds golden-brown flesh as a beauty standard.

A wholesale change in sunning behavior will only take place to "the extent that fashion magazines and the media generally push the more pale look as attractive," Dr. Pertschuk says.

Perhaps the fish belly-pale waifs slinking down fashion runways represent a revised standard for attractiveness. Fashion and women's magazines including Mirabella, Vogue and Redbook also carry cautionary tales about the harmful effects of sunbathing. And in 1988, a national survey of fashion professionals suggested that dark tans were a fading trend because of the threats of skin cancer and premature aging.

A consistent message

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