Under the UV Sun 

Base tans are the new teen fashion must. Well, that and melanoma.

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Both of these studies, as well as several others, are dismissed by the Indoor Tanning Association's Levy and Nedelman. They consider such research self-interested bile put forth by the suntan lotion industry and dermatologists who stand to make a financial gain as long as people fear the sun. After all, Levy complains, at the start of each summer skin doctors condemn the sun and then ask people to visit their office to have their skin checked at $150 a pop.

Levy worries that if California bans underage use of tanning salons, the state's action will set a precedent that could sweep nationwide. Lobbyists from his association have killed similar bills in about six states in the past few years, but California's may be the first to make it to a governor's desk.

"If this legislation passes, it will send the wrong message to our children," Levy says. "It will tell them that it's okay to make laws that hurt small-business owners. It will tell them it's okay to make laws based on bad science. If it passes, you've helped perpetuate the myth of the Skin Mafia."

But with the mounting number of studies linking tanning salons to cell damage, members of Nedelman's "Skin Mafia" such as dermatologist Lee are confounded why anyone would even allow them to remain open.

In a comparison used often by her peers, Lee likens salons to the destructive nature of cigarettes. Would we sell them to our kids if the tobacco industry promoted nicotine as having positive effects in moderate usage? "Going to a tanning salon is like paying someone to give you skin cancer and wrinkles," she says.

One person whose exposure to cancer is more than casual is Terry Broadbent of Tropical Solutions. He is a sixty-year-old triathlete, trim and buffed. At his age, he's proud to be as healthy as he is, and his deeply tanned skin is a tribute to his vigorous life outdoors.

Two years ago, Broadbent felt a rough and dark bump on his lower back: a mole gone awry. "I got it checked out right away," he says. "I don't let something like that go on; I care about my body."

Broadbent's swift action led to a complete removal of the mole and a full recovery. But, like many salon owners and Indoor Tanning Association members, he is suspicious of the dermatology community. And he isn't convinced that his case of melanoma was the result of sun exposure, despite the studies that make just that argument.

Instead, Broadbent argues we live in an era of myriad carcinogens, many of them in our food and air. Consider, Broadbent rightly notes, that last year the US Department of Health and Human Services listed ultraviolet radiation from the sun as a "known human carcinogen." Fearmongers, he says, are hijacking the discourse for their own political gains, which makes it difficult to ascertain the truth.

"I can't say the sun caused it," Broadbent says of his skin cancer. "It was a group of radical cells, that's all I know. Could have been from the food I ate or the alcohol I drank or the secondhand smoke I've taken in."

He laughs. "I did a lot in my day," he explains. "Who knows what caused it? ... I don't fear melanoma like they want me to. If it comes, it comes. Meanwhile, I'm out living my life."

If the proposed legislation passes, Broadbent could well have something to fear that he respects more than ultraviolet radiation. He says his daughter bought the first Tropical Solutions in 1991, shortly after the initial wave of government regulation, and back when indoor tanning salons struggled for a client base. Tropical Solutions was the first salon along the I-680 corridor, and, like most salons today, family-owned. Now it has a dozen competitors within a twenty-mile radius, including a Glo Tanning, the industry's mini-version of Starbucks.

But if Governor Schwarzenegger signs the bill, business at Tropical Solutions and at the roughly 2,500 other salons statewide will change dramatically. "My guess: The guys who just got into the game will fold," Broadbent says, "and the established ones, like us, will have to adjust prices.

"Most people think this is an easy business to run," he says. "But it's not. It's a seasonal business, and you live and die with the seasons."

Right now, the industry is enjoying its annual rush of late spring and early summer. Proms, graduations, and base tan seekers heading out for vacations make up the lion's share of the seasonal rush. Broadbent's estimates are high, but he says as many as one in five of his customers could be shut out by the legislation -- and will then head for the beaches, where they'll get burned even further.

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