Working on their tan


POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

The state's indoor tanning industry has always faced challenges—that's not surprising given that selling indoor tans in Hawaii is a lot like selling snow to Eskimos. Recently, it's gotten even more difficult, but there are bright spots on the horizon.

It's hard to believe that anyone would want to tan indoors in such a sunny place. However, some people want to look tanned but don't have time to lie on the beach or are self-conscious about tanning outside, said Mark Rapoza, owner of Sun Splash Tans, who has successfully operated his indoor tanning salon in Kapahulu for the past six years.

There also are plenty of hula dancers, beauty contestants and bodybuilders who need perfect line-free tans and clients who use tanning beds to clear up medical skin conditions or improve their appearance for a special event, he said.

But it's definitely a niche market, he said.

“;Competition is fierce,”; Rapoza said. “;Whenever a new tanning salon opens, either they don't make it or another closes.”;

A new study that tied tanning beds to an increased risk of cancer has magnified the intrinsic and economic challenges for Hawaii's indoor tanning industry. The study, released in July by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, said skin cancer risk is increased by 75 percent for those who use tanning beds before age 30.





        A recent San Diego State University study titled “;CITY 100”; found that indoor tanning salons outnumber Starbucks and McDonald's in some U.S. cities; however, Honolulu had a relatively low density.

The study, which was conducted by a team led by public health researcher Joni Mayer, determined on average there were 41.8 indoor tanning facilities per city, or 11.8 salons per every 100,000 people. On the high end were cities like Charleston, W.Va.; Pittsburgh; Akron, Ohio; Portland, Maine; and Columbia, S.C.


The study identified only 13 tanning salons in Honolulu, or 3.5 per every 100,000 people.


Source: City 100, February 2009




Nationwide, the $2.7 billion tanning salon industry is expected to experience a 5.1 percent decline this year as the negative impacts of a down economy and the study play out, according to market research firm IBIS World Inc. But Theresa Thrasher, owner of Kapolei-based Paradise Tans, and other indoor tanning owners in Hawaii say they are more worried about the economy than they are about the latest IARC report.

Thrasher has already closed her sister salon in Pearl City. Now the economy is threatening Thrasher's Kapolei location.

“;It's been hard this last year or so, I know that,”; Thrasher said. “;I saw a slowdown last May. Now I'm making about half.”;

Military deployments also have cut Thrasher's client base, forcing her to become a one-woman operation.

“;I work a lot more hours,”; she said.

But if Thrasher can hang on until her military client base returns to Kapolei in full force, she thinks there will be brighter days.

“;The study hasn't had much impact, and I don't think it will in the future,”; she said. “;People will do what they want to do.”;

Once clients quantify the study, it carries less weight, Rapoza said.

“;I don't want to do anything that would harm people,”; he said. “;They didn't quantify the report. They didn't say whether it was based on people being exposed to rays for five minutes or five days.”;

Other credible scientific studies have recommended 10 to 15 minutes a day of UV exposure to help build vitamin D levels for the prevention of cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and fibromyalgia, Rapoza said.

Rochelle Jones, a regular at Rapoza's salon, was undeterred by the latest study.

“;(Tanning) is relaxing and it gives me confidence,”; said Jones, who finds it hard to get to the beach with two kids. “;It's OK in moderation.”;

The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents the U.S.'s $5 billion industry, underscored the notion in a New York Post ad.

“;Because tanning beds produce the same UV light as the sun, overexposure and abuse of our product—just like overexposure to sunlight—is associated with an increased risk for some types of skin cancer,”; Indoor Tanning Association President Dan Humiston said in a release.

Staying bronzed is in the job description for professional hula dancer Kacie Lynch, but juggling two jobs and college classes doesn't leave her enough time to soak up the sun or focus on the intricacies of the latest indoor tanning study.

Lynch relies on tanning beds and self-tanning sprays to capture the sun-drenched look that tourists expect.

“;People visiting here don't want to see pale hula dancers,”; Lynch said. “;The bright lights tend to wash us out, so almost everyone, even the darker-toned dancers, go tanning.”;

Lynch looks like she spends hours on the beach, but visiting the tanning beds and using self-tanners and tanning accelerators gets the job done in about 20 minutes a week.

That's the biggest reason Muneca Harvey's business, Exquisite Tanning & Spa, is thriving despite what some would consider a difficult business model in Hawaii.

“;People, especially in Hawaii, have a very limited amount of time. They spend lots of time in traffic and lots of time working so they can't always get to the beach,”; Harvey said. “;And when they do, they can't always guarantee that it won't be windy or rainy.”;

But while Harvey's business is running slightly ahead of the prior year, she worries about the economy.

“;We changed our name from 808 Tan to Exquisite Tanning & Spa last year because we were planning to move into a larger space and start offering spa services,”; Harvey said. “;We put those plans on hold.”;

She has diversified by offering sunless tanning sprays that have proved popular with clients. Harvey refers those seeking a professionally applied sunless tan to Rapoza's salon.

Rapoza has some machines that behave like the sun and others that are more powerful and get deeper into the skin, he said. He has spray tans, too.

“;You can't tell the difference,”; he said, adding that the first spray tan at his salon is free for cancer patients, who must limit UV exposure.

Rapoza might be on to something. Diversifying a salon's menu with health and beauty services is a good way to help generate revenue in tough times, George Van Horn, a senior analyst with IBIS World, told the Associated Press.

While tanning-bed usage is expected to continue declining nationwide, IBIS World reported that the market for spray-on tanners, which now account for 11 percent of the industry's revenue, is expected to continue growing to a 17 percent market share by the end of the year.

“;Profit levels are higher with spray-on tanning booths, therefore the shift toward these substitutes may actually improve the industry,”; Van Horn told the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.