Tan salons take on a glow

Expanding: Two tanning-salon chains plan 30 outlets each in the region, but doctors raise health concerns about the practice.

April 09, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

The first time Norma Aisquith found herself engulfed in what she described as a "bright aroma," she admitted she was a little frightened. But then the light began to comfort her. Now, she's recommending it to her friends.

And that's just how Ralph Venuto Sr., founder and chief executive of the Mount Laurel, N.J.-based Hollywood Tan franchise, likes it.

Aisquith, a 54-year-old Glen Burnie resident with red hair and a pale complexion, went tanning for the first time with her daughter and sister at Hollywood's new salon in Glen Burnie's Harundale Plaza.

"This is new for me and I love it," Aisquith said.

At a time when many retailers are balking at expanding, Hollywood Tan and another salon chain, the Tan Stand, are planning to open about 30 stores apiece in the region within the next few years.

The chains call themselves upscale salons and feature stand-up tanning booths, which they say are cleaner and quicker than the traditional beds.

Venuto is overseeing the expansion of his 8-year-old privately held company throughout the region as part of a major growth initiative.

There are 105 Hollywood Tan facilities in operation, and Venuto said he has sold another 250 franchises for $29,500 each. Of that 250, he expects 30 will open by the end of April.

Hollywood Tan estimates it costs about $200,000 to set up a salon.

The Tan Stand has signed seven leases and plans to open 30 locations in the Baltimore-Washington region within the next two years, said Karen G. Wilner, the Towson real estate broker who is overseeing site selection.

Local chain

"We've already made a very substantial investment and we will increase that investment multiple times," said Harold Rubin, president and one of the three owners of the new, privately held Baltimore company. Rubin said he had been aware that Hollywood also planned to open salons in the region.

There aren't many new retailers coming into the local market, but the market for tanning salons "isn't saturated right now," said Wilner, a principal at Towson commercial real estate broker NAI KLNB Inc.

Although the two chains plan to open five dozen new shops between them, "I really believe there's room for three times that," Venuto said. "We really believe that most people don't tan because they're not aware of it. ... The more you holler hamburgers, the more hungry people get."

And people seem to be biting.

Bonnie Mackey, who opened her own Hollywood Tan in Harundale Plaza on March 18, said she has been seeing 60 or 70 customers a day. Mackey's salon has nine stand-up tanning booths and one "instant tan" booth, which mists customers with bronzers and self-tanners.

Nationally, 28 million people use tanning salons, about 10 percent of the population, according to Looking Fit, a Phoenix-based industry magazine with a circulation of 20,000.

Mackey's customers pay between $7.50 and $17 per 8- to 11-minute session and will wax poetic about tanning's mood enhancing benefits as well as the appeal of bronzed skin.

However, dermatologists aren't so thrilled.

"Argh! You can quote me directly on that, too," said Dr. Mark H. Lowitt, associate professor and vice chair of the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, who said people don't know how dangerous tanning really is.

Contrary to some beliefs, salon tanning is not safer than sunbathing, Lowitt said.

"It's an unregulated industry. Therefore, when you go there you have no idea how much light you're getting and what the output of the bulbs are," said Lowitt. "Even if it were regulated, it would still be light, and light is still carcinogenic."

Hollywood Tan customers are required to sign a release - with the words: "Danger - Ultraviolet Radiation" is the bold headline on a release Hollywood customers are required to sign that warns them against excessive exposure. All customers interviewed for this said they were aware of but not concerned about negative side effects.

While people may enjoy the short-term benefits, they regret long-term consequences such as wrinkles, said Dr. Stanley J. Miller, Johns Hopkins skin cancer specialist.

Linked to wrinkles

"In the long run [it] ... probably promotes the development of what we call photo aging," or the development of wrinkles, Miller said. Ultraviolet rays from tanning lamps "go in a little deeper" than ordinary sunlight, causing more damage, he said.

While the FDA regulates the manufacturers of tanning equipment, salons themselves are not nationally regulated, said Judie Bizzozero, editorial director for Looking Fit. Nor does the state of Maryland regulate salons.

Tanning salon owners self-regulate, said Venuto, adding, "Anybody with brains would know they're not going to jeopardize their business."

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