Beauty salons in Craig are teeming with tanning customers looking to get some color before summer arrives. The shops are filling to capacity, cashing in on the tanning season that peaks in the spring, slows down in the summer and drops off during winter.
Between pedicures and answering the telephone, Paula Terry and her staff at Oasis Tanning and Nails usher customers in and out of the shop's two tanning beds, which are being used a lot more in recent weeks.
"We're seeing 50 to 60 tanners a day now," Terry said. "Our capacity is 78."
Early in February, Terry saw as few as 12 tanning customers each day. By the end of the month, that number rose to 30. And after spring break, the phenomenon known to local beauticians as "tanning season" kicks off in earnest.
"It's huge," said Angela Derick, a stylist at ImageMakers Salon. "People are getting ready for summer. Everybody's like, 'I gotta have a base. I gotta have a base.'"
The "base" is a somewhat elusive term in the tanning industry. There's no color chart, no exact shade that constitutes a base. But salon operators know one when they see it.
Customers typically visit the salon once a day for two weeks to a month to establish a base color. After that, they can maintain their tan with as few as two 12-minute sessions a week.
Although some customers come in hoping to get a tan by next week, "You have to allow at least a couple weeks to a month to get the ultimate tan," said Cindy Simpson, the receptionist who manages the tanning operations at Knezovations.
"In a month, you could have an awesome tan," Simpson said.
Most of the time, an awesome tan means a full tan, which means no tan lines.
"They tan nude," said Jody Mason, who operates what she said was the first tanning salon in Craig, now called Pretty Foxy Beauty Bar.
Mason found that if customers wore swimsuits and developed tan lines, there were problems if they switched suits that didn't have the same coverage. Because the paler skin would be more prone to burning, Mason had to drop the customers back down to five-minute sessions. It made unhappy customers of those who had spent a month or more working up to the full 20 minutes.
Now, nude tanning is a rule at the salon.
"Tan lines aren't real cool," Derick said.
Some tanners found unexpected lines because some body parts shadowed others while lying down. The tanning industry responded with upright booths.
Knezovations offers a standing booth, which has overhead straps the customer can hold on to. By standing and elevating the arms, areas that might not have been exposed get tanned, Simpson said.
Men do tan, but the majority of customers are women. And many women have admitted that the 10, 12 or 20 relaxing minutes they spend in warm solitude are as important as the tan.
"It's the best 10-minute nap of your life," Derick said. "I'm not mom. I'm nobody."
As the industry grew, manufacturers built beds with more bulbs and shorter sessions. Many customers welcomed the change, because they can drop by the salon and get in and out of the bed quickly. Others miss the 20 minutes of peace, and continue to use the older beds for a warm, quiet nap.
"It makes you look better. It's warm, and there's 12 minutes of total peace," said Charmaine Ciani, who's been tanning for eight years.
Newer beds are outfitted with fans that circulate air through the tanning chamber. Ciani said she imagines she's on a beach with a nice, warm breeze blowing.
"You close your eyes and you just..." Ciani said, dreamily.
On its Web site, the American Cancer Society offers audio excerpts from a report by a doctor named Martin Weinstock, who warns about the risks of tanning.
"The best color of your skin is the color you were born with. So people who are naturally light skinned do damage by trying to make their skin a darker shade with ultraviolet radiation," Weinstock said.
Tanners don't seem to be deterred by the possible health risks of exposing oneself to ultraviolet light.
Some say that since they don't participate in any other risky behaviors, such as smoking, they feel comfortable taking what they feel is a relatively small risk to get a tan.
Ciani grew up in Mount Harris, where it was traditional for children to flock to the river after winter was over. Many times, she was burned during long afternoons at play. She said her childhood exposure to sunlight was much more intense than the mild exposure she gets at the salon.
"I went to the river and burnt every year for 16 years," Ciani said. "This (tanning bed) is very nice and easy."
Ciani started tanning after she saw people whose skin looked so good, she couldn't help but asking how they got the color. She found out they were tanning in beds, and she's been doing it ever since.
"It is safer to tan in tanning beds than outside because you can control the amount of sun you get," Terry said. "Progressive, slow tanning is not as dangerous as being out and getting burnt."
Some of Terry's customers try to get a little color in the tanning beds before they go out and work in their gardens, for instance.
Customers who show up with white winter skin may stay in the bed as few as 4 minutes their first few sessions of the season.
Most salons keep the control panel for the beds out front by the counter so the operator, not the customer, can control the duration of the session. A customer can activate the shut-off switch, however.
"Sometimes people think they know best and they fry themselves," Simpson said.
"I have to carry a huge liability insurance," Terry said.
Another health risk is that some medications increase a person's reaction to the rays. The heightened photosensitivity can turn someone red as a beet in only a few minutes. Salons list the types of medications that cause increased photosensitivity, and beauticians advise customers to wait until they quit taking the medicine or to tan very slowly. Many times, the prescription labels will warn of such risks.
Certain conditions, such as psoriasis, are actually helped by the light in tanning beds, according to local salon operators.
"We have quite a few teen-age boys coming in for that reason," Derick said.
Terry said some customers have signed up after their doctors recommended the light to combat depression.
"We all want to come tan because of spring fever," Terry said. "We have to bundle up and be in long sleeves so much longer out here."
"It's very healthy after the long winter blues, but in moderation," said Susan Johnston, a stylist at ImageMakers.
The gradual approach deepens the tan, and produces more of a golden, natural look, Johnston said.
And while salon operators and tanners swear no one can tell the difference between a tan from a bed and one from sunlight, certain indicators exist.
"When you see a blonde in Craig with a tan in the middle of winter, she's been in the tanning bed," Johnston said.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.