New state regulations keep minors out of Pa. tanning salons

Every year around prom season, Marilee Christy experiences an uptick in high school-aged customers at Island Heat & Tanning Salon in Harrison.

“Most of our customers are over 18, but around that time we see a lot of girls that want to tan for prom,” the owner said. “That will obviously change.”

The change will come because of a state law that took effect this month. It requires tanning facilities to turn away customers younger than 17 and obtain written parental consent for 17-year-olds.

The new rule banning most minors from tanning equipment that emits ultraviolet light is part of a sweeping set of regulations under the Indoor Tanning Regulation Act.

Any facility that charges a fee or membership for use of a tanning bed – including tanning salons, spas, gyms and apartment buildings – must follow new rules intended to boost safety and keep users informed about the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) light.

Christy said Island Heat does its best to keep customers safe.

“We never let anyone over-tan,” she said of her business, which has nine tanning beds. “We govern it based on skin-type.

“The problem is: you can’t govern it when people leave here,” she said. “They can just go to another salon and tan more, or they go home and lay out.

“People need to take responsibility.”

Pennsylvania joins about three dozen other states that regulate the indoor tanning industry.

Lawmakers pitched the regulations for some 15 years before House Bill 1259 by Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks County, cleared Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk on May 6.

Tanning facilities must register immediately with the state Department of Health.

The facilities must maintain three years of records on everyone who uses tanning beds and be prepared for state inspections starting in May 2016.

“This is unknown territory for us – we’re not entirely familiar with how many of these facilities exist,” health department spokeswoman Holli Senior said.

State registration fees start at $150 for the first two tanning beds, $300 for more and $20 per bed in excess of 10 beds.

“These things add up,” said Bob Kirchner, owner of Holiday Health & Racquet Club in Plum, which offers gym members use of a couple of tanning beds. “We’ll probably keep on using them, but it just make things tougher.”

Island Heat’s Christy said her business has taken a bit of a hit.

“We have had some 16-year-olds who would normally buy tanning packages not do it because they wouldn’t be able to use them,” she said. “We’ve been in business for 15 to 20 years; it’s getting ridiculous with all the fees and taxes they hit us with.

“By the time you change your bulbs, you’re barely making any money.”

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, the state’s biggest physicians’ advocacy group, was one of the most vocal supporters of the act, while the Indoor Tanning Association and other critics dismissed it as “nanny state” lawmaking.

Tommy Patsakis, owner of Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Quarters, or LGQ, in Lower Burrell, said he’s seen his share of over-tanning.

“We used to offer ‘All You Can Tan’ packages and the kids would abuse it,” Patsakis said. “These kids used to come every day; they’d go nuts to get in here. It was bad – they wanted more time in the bed, and they’d get mad when we’d say ‘no.’

“We don’t do that anymore.”

LGQ now serves a more mature clientele, Patsakis said.

“We serve more customers in their 40s and 50s – people who come in about once-a-week just to get some color.” His salon has gone from eight tanning beds a few years ago to just three today.

Patsakis sees the need for restrictions on younger tanners.”

Melanoma is bad and these young kids are more susceptible to it,” he said. “It’s probably a good idea they did something.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.