Though very dark tans may have faded in popularity because of concern about skin cancer and premature wrinkling, society hasn’t reverted to the lily white maiden ideal either. People living where sunshine prevails often want to have at least some color. And those living in colder climates like an added touch of color in winter months to keep them from looking washed out. However, most working clients have little free daylight time to soak up tanning rays the old-fashioned way, and more and more salon owners are discovering that tanning is a profitable way to keep these sun worshippers happy.

Tanning is very popular with salon clients. Sheila Broderick, owner of Sunshine Nail and Hair Creations in Phoenix, Ariz., had room for only one tanning bed until her salon expanded a few months ago, and she now has a waiting list so long that her business could easily support three beds. Dee Dee Stotler’s tanning business at Talk of the Town salon in Brady, Texas, is sometimes busy from 6:30 a.m. to midnight. Like Broderick, Stotler would add more beds if she had more space.

But the best thing about tanning, say many owners, is that it will eventually bring you brand new clients-who will also take advantage of your nail services. Bob Cozzolino, sales director for Avex Industries, explains: “By expanding and adding a tanning center, you give hundreds of potential new clients an additional reason to visit your salon. It will also give your present clientele a reason to see you more often.

 “Unlike with other services, tanning clients will visit your salon two to three times a week,” he says. “This will give you the opportunity to increase sales of retail products and related services.”


As with any new venture, the initial outlay of cash required to add tanning can turn people off. However, by doing your homework before you start shopping for equipment and products, you can make a smart investment that could be recouped within months. “It’s tough when you first add tanning,” admits Broderick, “but it builds fast. I was amazed at how busy I got and how quickly it happened.”

You’ll have to provide a private room for each tanning bed, unless you get the stand-up model, in which case you can put several in the same room. If you have some extra space in your current salon, you’ll simply need to add wall partitions. Fortunately, each tanning room doesn’t have to be large--- 10 feet by 10 feet is enough room for the tanning bed and space for the client to change and store her personal belongings.

But if your salon is already cramped, you may need to add on to your current structure or perhaps expand into an unleased space next door. If you’re already planning to expand your salon for your nail services, then this is a great time to add an extra service like tanning.


New beds, depending on the model, can run anywhere from $2,100 to $4,000 for a model with standard features. Mike Alotta, owner of The Sunset Club in Allentown, Pa., says that prospective buyers should look for something sturdy, comfortable, and visually appealing.

Standard beds usually require clients to open and close the canopy manually, but Alotta says he would think twice before getting a motorized top. He has seen the mechanism fail, forcing people to crawl out of the bed. Alotta also recommends looking for beds with at least 12 bulbs on both the top and bottom so that clients can get a good overall tan. If you’re going to splurge for that one extra feature, many owners suggest looking for a bed with a built-in radio. That way, clients won’t have to lug their portable radios or headsets to the salon.

Through $4,000 may seem expensive for a single bed, Klafsun president Ray Lotter (Buffalo Grove, III.) says prices have really come down. “You don’t have to spend as much money to start today as you used to,” he says. At $2,600 for a single 20-lamp unit, a salon can make two to three times its initial investment in the first year.

Deluxe tanning bed models can run as high as $20,000, says Stotler. These beds have such features as exhaust fans, hydraulic lifts, and piped-in music, plus features you’d get as you increase in price from the most basic model, such as cushioned headrests and facial tanners.

If you can’t afford to buy new equipment or you’re just not sure you’re ready to make that big an investment, you can shop around for a used bed. One advantage to buying a used bed is that you may recoup your investment faster. Broderick purchased a used bed from someone she knew who took the bed apart and checked its components.

Before buying a used bed, check that you can still purchase parts and get service for that model. And, check the acrylic shields for scratches and other wear and tear.

If you buy a used bed, install new bulbs to ensure uniform performance and replacement schedules. As Alotta says, unless you know the person you buy the bed from, you can’t take it for granted what the seller tells you about the condition of the bed.

Obviously, buying new bulbs will run up the bill no matter how good a buy you get on the tanning bed, but you should still be able to save some money buying used equipment. Alotta estimates bulbs cost anywhere from $8 to $16, depending on how many hours of life each bulb has.

Service both new and old beds regularly, based on the manufacturer’s advice. The service frequency may influence your purchase decision, so be sure to ask when comparing models. In addition, bulbs need to be changed, at set intervals, depending on the type. Also, the acrylic shields need to be cleaned because the fans cooling the unit trap dust particles inside, which blocks the rays and reduces the bed’s efficiency. Alotta removes his shields every three to four weeks and cleans both sides with a sanitizing spray.

Look for tanning bed manufacturer that offers educational classes or materials to help you launch your tanning business safely and profitably. A manufacturer should be willing to help you at its own facility, or by sending a representative to your salon with written materials or videotapes. Some even have a hot line number you can call with questions. As always, it’s important to keep the MSDS and other information for all equipment and products.

Shirley Leininger, vice president of Sunbronze (St. Louis, Mo.), says a good manufacturer won’t mind referring you to customers you can call and ask about the product’s performance. Sharrie Mueller, owner of Mostly Nails and Tanning in Chicago, asked her nail customers who used tanning salons where they went and why they liked it. Then she went to those salons and tried the equipment herself. These experiences helped her when she added her own tanning services.

Mueller knew, for example, that she didn’t want a bed that prohibited her from controlling how far down the canopy closes: “It’s too claustrophobic,” she says, “and when the motor breaks, it’s costly to replace.”  She is pleased with her final choice. Mueller enjoys the computerized unit on her desk that lets her control the length of each client’s session. A plastic, coded card she inserts in the bed gives her various messages, such as telling her the lamps need to be changed. “My bed will always be in working condition,” says Mueller. She can also tell how many times a bed is used each day and the length of each session.

Though all manufacturers’ models differ, it seems that no one has a bed with more than a 30-minute session. “If you tan more than once a day or stay in too long,” explains Broderick, “your skin will look like leather. It’s important to check the manufacturer’s time limit per session for the bed you purchase. If a client is tanning but not burning, you can increase the length of tanning time per session until the maximum is reached. You just have to be careful. Never let someone with red skin tan.”

Today’s bed sizes are fairly standard---about 89 inches by 39 inches, says Christine Ginet, account executive for Sonnen Braune Wolff Systems (Redmond, Wash). Models now are larger to recognize taller people and those with more bulk, like body builders.


Clients who use tanning beds are just as vulnerable to burning as those who get their sun outside. Plan to invest in skin care products for in-salon use and retailing. Many companies offer different lotions for the developing tan, advanced tan, and maintenance tan. Make sure the tanning product you choose contains a moisturizer, as tanning dries out the skin. Most clients will buy some type of moisturizer to use after they tan, so you’d be missing an opportunity by not providing the product for retail.

Emphasize to your clients the protection that sunscreens offer for both indoor and outdoor tanning. Health experts suggest using sunscreen with a sun protection using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. If applied properly, an SPF 15 product protects skin from sunburn 15 times longer than no protection. If you burn after 10 minutes in the sun unprotected, you can use an SPF 15 sunscreen and stay in the sun for 150 minutes without burning. Advise clients to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before tanning to allow time for the skin to absorb the product.

Not all sunscreens offer the same protection---even two products labelled SPF 15 may not be equal. One may only protect against UVB rays, while the other may protect against both UVB and UVA rays. Look for a sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum” for the most complete protection.

Clients who perspire a lot or who enjoy water sports need special products as well. By law, a sunscreen labelled “water resistant” must protect at the listed SPF even after 40 minutes in the water. “Waterproof” sunscreens must protect for 80 minutes.

Though an SPF of 30 offers a lot of protection, the American Academy of Dermatology notes that the high level of chemicals in SPF 30 products can irritate skin, so you may want to advise clients to use a product with a lower SPF and to apply it more frequently. Finally, the nose, lips, and other sensitive areas need to be protected. Some people use zinc oxide sun blocks, but they can be messy. Offer a choice of liquid and gel form that will be absorbed by the skin and lips.


No matter what you tell them, some clients will want that super dark tan--- yesterday. For their safety, you must be firm about not letting clients spend more time in the tanning bed than is appropriate for their skin tone and tanning history, as suggested by the equipment manufacturer. Explain to stubborn or foolhardy clients that you are protecting their health and would rather lose them as tanning customers than be a partner in damaging their skin. Most clients will appreciate your concern and will think twice before tanning at your salon and then running to a second one that same day to darken their skin even further.

 “The whole idea is to tan without burning,” says Lotter, “which is easily accomplished in a tanning bed when you regulate your exposure.” To help address a prospective client’s concerns, Ginet suggests having a lot of brochures handy---“Not just those promoting the equipment you’ve purchased, but some with information on tanning.”


Each state has different rules and regulations for the tanning industry, so it’s important to know the rules that apply to you. For example, based on Arizona’s regulations, Broderick has each tanning client fill out and sign a reference card releasing the salon from liability. The card lists the client’s skin tone and how easily it tans or burns, and tracks the length of each appointment. The card also lists medications the client is taking, as some medicines, such as antibiotics, tranquilizers, antihistamines, birth control pills, and oral diabetes medication can make a person especially susceptible to sunburn or cause excessively dry, flaky skin. Broderick’s clients are required to initial the card before each session.

Arizona’s rules also require that every salon employee know how to use the tanning bed, whether she is a nail technician, a hairstylist, or the salon owner. Every new client must be shown how to safely operate the bed and be given eye goggles to wear. Eye protection is very important, because UVA rays can penetrate even closed eyelids and increase the risk of cataracts and retina damage.

Broderick also asks each client to clean the bed after her service by spraying the acrylic surfaces with a sanitizing agent and wiping them down. The staff also checks the bed before each appointment, though Broderick says most clients clean the bed before their service as a precautionary measure. Alotta says, however, “Sanitation should be the tanning salon’s responsibility.”

Stotler says that Texas’ rules are stringent. Tanning can be offered only in a licensed salon, and the state department of health, not the board cosmetology, conducts inspections. Salons must post a 3-by 3-foot sign with specified-size lettering that reads “Danger: Ultraviolet Radiation.” A smaller, identical sign must be posted near each tanning bed. “It doesn’t look too pretty,” says Stotler. “We also have to hand out information saying that if people do not tan in the sun, they will not tan in these machines.”

Every salon should have tanning clients sign a form agreeing that they will comply with the suggested time limitations for their tanning sessions and wear protective goggles. Again, check your state’s requirements. “I didn’t know” is no defense against non-compliance.


You have several options for pricing tanning services. You can charge a flat rate per session, regardless of how long a client stays. With 30-minute sessions, Leininger says that a salon should be able to serve 15-20 clients per day, per bed. Obviously, the more sessions you sell, the more money you make. Leininger says that no matter what anybody tries to tell you, the tanning season is not year-round, but about six to eight months long. “You have to make it while you can,” she says.

Broderick provides four different tanning packages to clients. A client can purchase one 30-minute session for $5, five sessions for $20, 10 sessions for $30, or one month of unlimited visits (with a maximum of one visit per day) for $40. These prices stand whether or not a client uses the full 30-minute session.

Mueller charges $9 a session, $70 for 10 visits, $90 for 15, $110 for 20, and $150 for 30. The more sessions a client buys, the cheaper each session is---the price per session for the largest package is $5. If a client can only use 20 minutes of her 30-minute session, Mueller will give her 10 minutes’credit of tanning time. “In the long run, I’ll make more that way because my clients will buy more and be more loyal because they’ll appreciate the value,” she says.

Another way to increase your profit is by retailing tanning-related products such as sunscreens or tanning accelerators. April Adams, marketing director for California Tan (Los Angeles), suggests sticking to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on products, which already has the salon owner’s profits built in (usually 50%). “If a salon keeps the suggested price, especially on a nationally recognized product, it will make a profit for the salon, yet the price will be low enough that clients won’t go elsewhere to buy it.”


Broderick is fortunate not to have to worry about promoting her tanning services, as she already has a waiting list. Word-of-mouth has done well for her, though she sends mailings to residents within a five-mile radius of her salon. Stotler says, “My nail clients see people walking down the hall toward the tanning area, and many of them ask what is back there since they’ve never seen it. Most of them don’t know what a tanning bed is or how it works.” She gives curious nail clients a tour, and they usually make an appointment before they leave.

Mueller, who says she’s “still feeling her way around in this industry,” gives her nail customers a free tanning session if they bring in a nail service referral. In addition to direct-mail ads, mail coupons, and word-of-mouth referrals, Mueller plans to offer community programs to promote her business. She’s considering offering a special to high school students just before prom time.

Ginet suggests business card drawings for all tanning clients. The person whose card is drawn gets a refund for whatever session was purchased at the time the card was deposited. Alotta offers complimentary sessions to people who bring his newspaper ad with them to the salon. He also offers dollars off deals or a free week of tanning to people who sign up for a year.

Staff enthusiasm alone will help sales. “I started my tanning business because I knew I could sell it,” Mueller explains. “I’m excited about my bed and I like to tan in it myself. It’s the best thing for stress.”

Selling tanning is not much different than selling nail care when it comes to the sales pitch. Treat your customer’s right, and they’ll always come back to you. The only thing you need to understand is that this new service does require tanning-specific knowledge that you don’t have from your years of doing nails. But with the right preparation, you can watch your tanning services take off. With some of that extra money, you’ll be able to buy yourself a tropical vacation- and you’ll already have your tan.



Thin and brown have been the marks of a healthy body for years in the United States. However, while thin is still in, new evidence increasingly highlights the dangers inherent in tanning. Slowly, perceptions are changing, and deep, dark tans are lightening as people become aware of the dangers of skin cancer and wrinkling.

When you tan outdoors, you are exposed to two types of ultraviolet radiation---UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns. However, the effects of UVA rays are cumulative, and large amounts of exposure destroy skin’s elasticity, leading to premature wrinkling, dryness, and other signs of aging. UVA exposure may also damage blood vessels and the ability of certain cells to provide their immune-protecting activities. The skin may also develop sensitivity to UV rays and may become more susceptibe to skin cancer caused UVB rays. Tanning booths often give off both types of rays. Though some beds use only 1% UVB rays, even that amount increases the risk of skin cancer, says a report from the National Institutes of Health.

The best way to tan is in moderation, with the proper protection, and to be on the lookout for any changes on the skin, such as new moles or an increase in size of existing ones, or patches of itchy skin. Any changes should be examined by a dermatologist.

As with outdoor tanning, people most at risk for overexposure are those with fair skin---often people with blond or red hair---and those who freckle or develop rough red patches on their skin from sun exposure.

So what’s the bottom line? Awareness. Tanning, at least in the foreseeable future, will remain quite popular, and it is unrealistic to expect that people can or want to eliminate their total exposure to the sun or tanning beds. However, you are doing your clients---and ultimately your business---a service if you are careful in your promotion of tanning. If you have a client who faithfully comes in six days a week for a 30-minute session, you might want to suggest that she ease up, even if you’ll lose money if she takes your advice. Keeping her as a client over the long haul rather than losing her to irreversibly damaged skin will serve your business better. And nothing will build client loyalty more than letting her know you care.

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