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Are Utah tanning salons lying about cancer dangers?

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Utah has the highest rate of skin cancer, and some experts blame tanning beds. With a new tanning salon law being passed in our state, ABC 4 wanted to find out what your really being told when you step into the salon.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Melanoma is a word no one wants to hear from the doctor, but in Utah we hear it more than any other state. We have the highest rates of skin cancer in the country and experts say tanning beds are a reason.

With a new tanning salon law being passed in our state, ABC 4 wanted to find out what your really being told when you step into the salon.

We did months of undercover investigation searching for information from the tanning salons.

“You want a base tan because it will protect you from the sun," said one tanning salon employee.

“It’s going to give you color to protect you from the sun,” said another employee.

Those are words that appalled skin cancer survivor MaryAnn Gerber.

“That's what makes me sick,” said MaryAnn.

We started out investigation by randomly deciding which valley tanning salons we should test.

We threw darts at a map of Salt Lake City. Four throws and we found four different salons.

MaryAnn helped us with the investigation by taking the undercover camera inside.

“Because at 24 i got it. It was because of a tanning bed,” said MaryAnn as she recalled when she was diagnosed with melanoma.

She was a sporadic tanner. MaryAnn saw a mole on her face and got it removed for vanity reasons. She's lucky she did.

“Within 3 days I got a call that it was melanoma," said MaryAnn.

MaryAnn told us she had no idea the tanning bed rays were actually hurting her.

“I was told if I didn't burn in a tanning bed I would be fine and I believed it and why wouldn't I? I had no idea. No one knew any different,” said MaryAnn.

But Doctor Sancy Leachman at the Huntsman Cancer Institute told us, now we should know better.

“Any time you get a tan the cause of that tan is UV light coming in and damaging the cells and damaging the DNA in those cells,” said Dr. Leachman.

She says damage can change into cancer no matter how many exposures to UV light you have. It could be the first time or hundredth time.

“This is not a safe practice so claiming that it is, is clearly bias and it is profiteering on the backs of young peoples health,” said Dr. Leachman.

This is where our hidden cameras came in. We wanted to find out if we would be given wrong information by tanning salons.

First we went to Envy Tan in South Jordan and MaryAnn heard something she didn’t like.

“It's not going to hurt your skin at all. It’s just like being out in the sun,” said the worker.

“They have no idea what they're talking about and I want them to know so bad,” said MaryAnn.

Next on the list was European Tan near downtown Salt Lake City.

“So you want a base tan?” asked MaryAnn. “You want a base tan especially since the tan will protect you from the sun,” answered the worker. “It's the people who tan every day for years that are the people who usually get skin cancer.”

“She told me if I got a base tan I would be safe from the sun. Which is absolutely not correct,” said MaryAnn.

Suns A Beach in downtown gave us similar answers about burning and base tans. But one salon we tested got it right. Electric Beach in South Salt Lake gave Maryann some good advice about tanning and her fair skin with moles.

“If you’re worried about it I would recommend going to see a dermatologist and getting them checked out,” said the worker.

So, we wanted to find out why this information is being given out. We tried to contact the salons by phone with no successes. We went to the businesses to get some answers. European Tan didn’t give us any answers.

“I just need you to leave,” said the manager as she was on the phone with the owner. “Could we set up a meeting with him? asked ABC4 Anchor Kylie Conway. “Is that him on the phone right now? Could we talk to him?," continued Kylie. “I just need you to leave. He has the contact information if he needs to,” said the manager.

The Suns A Beach owner met us at the door.

“I'm happy to make a statement off camera but I'm not going on camera,” said the owner.

But when it came down to actually making a statement off camera he wouldn't talk.

But at Envy Tan the owner looked at the undercover video and responded.

“I'm concerned and I'm definitely going to address it, retrain her,” said the owner.

Maryann's main concern is that the right information isn't getting out for you to make an informed decision.

“I just want to cry for them because it was the same thing I was told and look what happened to me,” said MaryAnn.

Or she thinks it’s even worse if your getting lied to.

“If the people who are peddling this product don't know what they are talking about or are lying to you about this product. That's what makes me sick,” said MaryAnn.


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