Stories about changes in teenagers' behavior have flooded 2017. Wet Seal shut down. High schoolers watched twice as much YouTube and Netflix as traditional television. And experts predicted that 300 American malls, the epicenter of teenage life for over 35 years, would close in the next decade because of low foot traffic and sales.
Teenagers' lives have changed, so it was shocking when the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine published a study from Yale School of Public Health showing that tanning salons are welcoming teens under their ultraviolet light despite the ban from servicing minors in several states. Study author Leah Ferrucci sought out tanning salons in these states and instructed her assistants to pose as minors and call the businesses. "Our study was only conducted by telephone, so they answered yes or depends over the phone to our research assistants posing as minors," Ferrucci explained to Broadly in an email. Out of 412 salons, 19.9 percent reported that they would offer tans to teens.
These businesses' tanning beds could lead to health hazards, considering doctors blame indoor tanning for 400,000 cancer cases in the US according to Ferrucci's study, but the question remains: Do teens still tan, or have they abandoned orange skin just like they gave up Wet Seal?
I ventured to the San Fernando Valley, a.k.a. the Valley, to investigate.
Once a hotspot for orange teens in pink spandex, Burbank Town Center appeared devoid of youngsters. Silver pipes hung from the ceiling and only elderly people and a few homeless guys ventured into the mall's marquee shop, the fluorescent-lit Burlington Coat Factory. Two teens were cuddling on a bench. I approached them about tanning salons. "No thanks, bro!" the male rebuffed me.
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Rejected by a high schooler in a mall, I headed to the better lit, more high-end Glendale Galleria, where I met the middle school-aged Maya and Tiffany. "Not really!" they answered when asked if their friends lay on tanning beds. They noted, though, that they love the mall and visit "every two weeks."
Teens, though, are not all the same. "I think that most teens think there's nothing wrong with it, but they mostly use it for special occasions like homecoming or prom," 16-year-old Leena tells Broadly.
"I do not know any teens who use tanning salons," 19-year-old Sara explains. She expresses concern about sun damage and also notes, "I only know people who are not white. I did once know a girl who told me to stop wearing sunscreen in order to get a tan. She was Native American and Black." Sara advises to avoid tanning altogether: "Just use tinted lotion!"
Outside Glendale's Bath and Body Works candle shop, I asked three teens if they agreed with Sara's assessment. They showed zero interest in health. "I don't know anyone [who tans]," admitted Jason, a local high school student. His friend, Moose, joked, "I don't know anyone in general." Their female friend, Gabriella, snapped at my question. "No, no, no!" She was having none of her pals' politeness: "I have no opinion [on tanning salons]!"
Tanning has become lame to Generation Z. Salons may be willing to offer minors tans, but based on their reactions, these teens won't be climbing into their beds anytime soon.