It’s Messed Up That So Many Gyms Have Tanning Beds

Despite all of the known health risks, tanning beds can be found at more than three-quarters of some of the country's biggest fitness chains.
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Photo by Robert Gauthier/Getty Images

Indoor tanning was, at one point, all the rage in white America—to the point that not one, but two totally forgettable teen slasher movie sequels from the ‘90s and ‘00s, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Final Destination 3, had its killer use a tanning bed as a weapon. But the demand for indoor tanning went the way of Paris Hilton’s relevance by the end of the 2010s, and the nation put our tanning beds to, well, bed.


Or so we thought.

A recent study has found that indoor tanning is still very much a thing, even if it’s not quite as popular as it once was, as Reuters reported on Tuesday.

In a study published in peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Network Open in December 2019, researchers surveyed three of the largest gym chains in the United States—Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, and Gold’s Gym—and found that more than three quarters of the establishments they looked at offered tanning beds to members, for a total of 4,660 tanning beds found across 1,347 gyms.

The researchers behind the study seem understandably appalled by their findings, as indoor tanning carries a risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma.

“It would be outrageous if gyms installed cigarette machines,” said lead study author Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus. “It is just as outrageous that they have tanning beds.”

What’s also surprising is how fitness centers’ embrace of tanning beds might have been spurred by the Affordable Care Act, which taxes tanning salons but not businesses whose primary function is not to provide tanning bed services, like these major gym chains. “In the 10 years since the act was passed, thousands of indoor tanning bed salons across the country closed,” dermatologist Sara Hogan told Reuters. “[Fitness] facilities are exempt from the tax as long as their main focus is promoting exercise and physical fitness, indoor tanning is an insubstantial part of the business, members are not charged per tanning visit, and the service is not exclusively advertised.”


That said, I’m mostly just shocked that indoor tanning is still a thing—and I say this as someone who had a tanning bed phase in the summer of 2006 and even dabbled in Jergens Natural Glow!!

While indoor tanning has declined since 2010, coinciding with the rise in sunless tanning as an alternative to UV radiation exposure, an estimated eight million Americans still participate in the practice annually, despite knowing all the risks—which, again, include skin cancer and deadly melanoma.

Tanning beds might be bad for you, but since when “this is bad for you” stopped us from doing something? I, personally, take part in lots of things that I know aren’t good for my health (drinking, smoking, trying to “be” “funny” during the instrumental breaks at karaoke). Still, it’s not a great look when a brand that literally exists to help people be healthier is endorsing a thing known to be deadly. You’d think that a brand built around physical fitness like Planet Fitness or Gold’s Gym would be a little more concerned about not trying to give their members cancer, but maybe that’s just me!

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