Hot commodity

Apartment complexes near campus are using tanning beds to draw students

Nina Petersen-Perlman

With winter come the familiar traditions of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, toasting frigid fingers by the heater and coasting through a daydream of warmer times while lying in a tanning bed.

University students are finding it easier than ever to get their daily dose of carcinogenic rays, with major apartment buildings near campus using tanning beds as a marketing lure.

University Commons, The Melrose Student Suites and 1301 Apartments all boast a tanning bed or two.

Constance Slama, University Commons manager, said the complex has two 20-minute beds residents can use.

“They’re very popular,” she said. “They’re used daily, especially in the spring.”

Michael Wilde, director of student services and marketing at The Melrose, said that, though they don’t limit how much someone can tan, he doesn’t see anyone doing it more than 15 times a month. He said they charge a dollar per session or $15 per month for first-year residents but waive the fee for longer-term residents.

“I think it’s an added benefit that several students like when choosing an apartment complex,” he said. “It’s a convenience.”

John Bilski, assistant manager at 1301, said the apartment building uses the tanning bed as a selling point.

“It seems to be popular, especially with the long winter,” he said. “It keeps people feeling summery.”

Global studies junior Alix Olson lived at University Commons last year and said the beds weren’t a key factor in her choice to move there, but it made it more attractive.

“I went about three times last winter,” she said. “It was relaxing to be able to just lay there and not have to do anything.”

DeAnn Lazovich, an associate professor of epidemiology, said the tanning trend is a dangerous one.

The cancer epidemiologist is conducting a three-year study on the link between indoor tanning and melanoma, a sometimes fatal form of skin cancer.

She said the apartments’ beds aren’t regulated like the ones in a professional tanning salon.

“Nobody’s ensuring someone is using eye protection, and kids could easily get access to them,” she said.

Minnesota state law dictates that those younger than 16 must have a parent’s permission to tan.

Michelle Blonigan, assistant manager at the Planet Beach tanning salon on Como Avenue Southeast, said one of the big differences between tanning at the apartments and at a salon is that all salon workers must be certified by the International Smart Tan Network, a tanning certification board.

“We know how to get people tan without doing as much damage,” she said. “We would start them in lower beds, and if you have a good base tan you can handle a good amount of time in higher beds.”

Blonigan said her salon also offers Mystic Tanning, a spray tan approved by the Food and Drug Administration that many prefer because it isn’t as dangerous as the beds.

Lazovich said tanning peaks in the winter and before spring break because people are trying to get a “base tan” before going to a warmer climate.

“People have incorrect perceptions on the advantages of tanning indoors before spring break because the kind of tan you get with indoor tanning is not the kind that provides the protection you would get if getting a suntan,” she said.

Lazovich said someone could tan indoors and not get exposed to enough radiation to cause a sunburn, and go tan outdoors with the same result, but the two together could add up to a burn.

“A tan is a marker of skin damage, not of protection,” she said.