‘Ditch the Bed’: Local salon provides safe alternative to tanning beds, campaigns for change

Jenna Fracassi

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With no end in sight to Michigan’s winter weather, many people find themselves reminiscing on warmer days and missing their suntanned skin. This desire to look tan is particularly prevalent among college-aged women, many of whom turn to tanning beds to achieve that bronzy glow. 

However common tanning may be, there are many proven negative effects associated with using tanning beds. 

According to skincancer.org, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—by 75 percent. And with so many tanning salons in and around the Allendale area, Grand Valley State University students are frequently targeted as customers.

Tanning is also one of the biggest amenities promoted by off-campus living complexes, with around nine of them offering free tanning to students.

“(Complexes offering tanning) are just trying to grab attention, and I guess for me the frustrating thing is they don’t really care what is being done and what’s hurting people in the meantime,” said Lauren Gregory, GVSU alumna and owner of Grand City Tanning and the Laker Babe Cave. “They just want the attention of the amenity versus caring about the health of the student.”

Gregory’s salons, located in Grand Rapids and Allendale, respectively, offer an alternative to tanning beds in the form of spray tanning, or sunless tanning, where a fine mist is sprayed onto the body. This provides a temporary effect, generally lasting up to seven days, and is safe for your skin. 

“When I actually went to Grand Valley, there was a tanning salon on campus, oddly,” Gregory said. “There was an actual tanning-bed tanning salon, and I unfortunately went all the time because I just didn’t understand the complete risks that were being done to me by going into a tanning bed. I just loved the effect of it.” 

After receiving a “bomb” custom spray tan during a visit to New York, Gregory knew she wanted to bring this service back home to West Michigan. This has since ignited her passion for ending tanning-bed tanning completely and has pushed her to get the message out about the dangers of tanning beds, particularly to students.

“We have a campaign called ‘Ditch the Bed,’ so at Campus Life Night last year I think we had like 130 students sign a pledge to not use tanning beds anymore,” Gregory said. “We’re going to keep doing things like that across campus just to get that information across and to kind of reintroduce spray tanning.”

Gregory also spoke to Andy Beachnau, associate vice provost for student services and director of housing and health services at GVSU, who supported her initiative. However, because the complexes that offer free tanning to students are off campus, Beachnau said he can only influence their decisions “like a neighbor can influence a neighbor.”

“I don’t disagree with (Lauren’s) assessment (on traditional tanning), and I had agreed to encourage like I would a neighbor that maybe (traditional tanning) isn’t something we should be offering students,” Beachnau said. “Now, they’re off campus, they can do whatever they want, but I thought Lauren’s service or store was a good alternative. 

“So, I had agreed to kind of remind my neighbors, partners, landlords that maybe this isn’t the best amenity to offer our students. … My overall goal is that students are safe, and if there’s any chance that this kind of tanning could cause students problems down the line, I think we should avoid it.”

Several off-campus apartment complexes could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Beachnau believes that healthy behavior should be both taught and modeled on campus, and off-campus units should do the same if they can. Still, one of the hindrances in getting tanning removed as an amenity is finding something equally appealing to replace it.

“I think students are interested in amenities that are technology-based, so if I was advising off campus, I would look at things like WiFi and access to technology as a good replacement (for tanning),” Beachnau said.

Gregory said she has reached out to at least five different GVSU organizations to get this issue more prominently featured on campus but has received either no response back or one email and nothing more. Moving forward, she is hoping to work on getting more student backing before going before the off-campus housing groups to have a “strong discussion on the matter.”

“I have a goal to try to figure out what I can do to make a change with (off-campus housing offering tanning),” she said. “Honestly, it’s the equivalent of handing three cigarettes out.”

To learn more about how college campuses are fighting back against the tanning-bed industry, visit www.skinsmartcampus.org/site/.