Indoor Tanning will be hit with a 10% tax. Photo: MCT


When Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid created a 5% so-called 'botax' to help fund the massive health care bill this past December, dermatologists, surgeons and cosmetic organizations banded together in outrage to fight the tax, arguing it would disproportionately affect middle class women and encourage consumers to seek out cheaper yet dangerously unregulated options.

But the group didn't just complain; they thought creatively, and offered another fund-raising alternative: A 10% tax on the indoor tanning industry, who many argue increase the collective cost of health care by creating a greater risk of skin cancer. Congress accepted.

"The decision to swap the cosmetic surgery tax with the tanning version was based on the more compelling health concerns with indoor tanning services," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells StyleList.

The motion has the support of many notable dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons.

"We know tanning increases your risk of skin cancer; that has been a published fact," says Dr. David Bank, president of the New York State Society for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

"In a way, you can compare the tax on tanning to the tax on cigarettes," says Dr. Bank. "Since we know that this activity increases the risk of having skin cancer, which is an added cost to the health care system, it is fair that some of the money to pay for the treatment should come from the tax."

"In the process, if this tax raises the price of tanning and thus causes people to stop going or go less frequently, then it's an added plus from any dermatologist's point of view," adds Dr. Bank.

But then, there's the downside: Women own 67 percent of indoor tanning businesses, and the tax could lead to more than 1,000 business closures resulting in 9,000 lost jobs in 2010, according to the International Smart Tan Network - which is the largest training organization for tanning professionals in North America.

Its vice president, Joseph Levy, is concerned that the tax will hit an industry that is already suffering from the recession, as more consumers cut back on optional beauty treatments like tanning.

"This tax is a microcosm of what's wrong in Washington. It was brought on by powerful lobbyists for Botox and the cosmetic surgery industry at the midnight hour before the bill passed," complains Levy. "We were given no opportunity to present our side, and no due diligence was performed."

They've over-projected profits by 40-50%. It's legislation at its worst; lobbyists had their way at the expense of the middle class," he contends.

"We're undergoing a for-profit industrial genocide, which is going to wipe us out at the hands of the dermatological industry," says James Oliver, CEO of the Beach Bum Tanning chain. Photo: MCT



Levy is an advocate of what he refers to as 'smart tanning,' which utilizes the Fitzpatrick scale of six degrees of skin sensitivity to the sun to judge what amount of exposure will maximize benefits like Vitamin D absorption while minimizing risks of radiation.

"Tans are natural and intended, which dermatology continues to deny. To say that a responsible base tan damages skin is like saying exercise damages your muscles. It lightly damages the muscle fibers, with the result being that you're stronger afterwards," claims Levy. "Our tanning clients are far less likely to get sunburned than the average person, which is where you have the greater risk."

Yet The Skin Cancer Foundation has aggressively campaigned against the use of tanning beds, stating that the link between skin cancer and tanning bed use is inarguable.

"Across all age groups, males and females who have ever used tanning beds have a 15 percent higher risk of developing melanoma. Based on seven worldwide studies, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent," The Skin Cancer Foundation stated in a release.

The World Health Organization also recently added ultraviolet radiation tanning beds to the list of the most carcinogenic forms of radiation.

Though a heightened risk of skin cancer and accelerated rate of aging aren't the only things to consider when using tanning beds, argues Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban.

"Tanning beds can give you infectious diseases such as viruses and bacteria. Herpes simplex virus can be activated by UV light, and if someone has active blisters, a person could get directly infected since the beds may not be wiped down. Fecal bacteria has also been found in tanning beds," says Shamban.

While both sides of the aisle can forever debate the alleged benefits and risks of indoor tanning, many feel the larger issue is the potential collapse of an industry that provides many middle class folks with income.

"We're undergoing a for-profit industrial genocide, which is going to wipe us out at the hands of the dermatological industry," says James Oliver, CEO of the Beach Bum Tanning chain.

"We were never given an opportunity to present our evidence and our side. Our customers feel unjustly treated and are in total disbelief over a 10% tax," added Oliver.

To fight the tax, the tanning industry has taken a cue from the rival dermatologic industry, and has organized into a committed force, complete with an official petition to Congress and press releases blanketing internet and news sources.

And Levy is even willing to extend an olive branch to the members of Congress who passed the bill.

"To be fair, many of the legislators didn't even know about the tanning tax because it was lost in the noise of this huge bill. I have hope that now that we're bringing attention to it and how it will affect so many people and businesses, they will want to reverse it."