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Sun in the Square Isn't Just for Summer

Tan by Me

By Amy N. Ripich

If your memories of summer are beginning to fade, at least you can make sure your tan doesn't.

In fact, two Harvard Square tanning salons are packing enough ultraviolet radiation to keep undergraduates bronzed and gleaming all winter long. Body Bronze (formerly the Harvard Tanning Club) and Tanorama compete for student business, offering free trial sessions, discount rates, and other spa-like amenities to draw in customers.

For library-locked academics interested in the prospect of insta-tan all over, times have never been better.

But the politics of indoor tanning are delicate and few students publicly admit to salon membership. No one wants to seem overtly narcissistic, and a year-round tan can clash with the intellectual image. It's okay for Zonker Harris, but it's hard to connect a lucite tanning bed with, say, the head of your department.

So who's doing it? Most likely the golden god or goddess whose coloring you craved when you both were working on 25-page seminar papers last winter. Body Bronze attributes "at least 35 percent" of its business to Harvard tanners, while Tanorama's Square outlet claims it gets at least 80 percent of its business from the Ivory Tower. Geeking away in Lamont may leave you doughy, but these places provide a way to gain a savage tan as you shoot for a summa cum laude.

Apparently, students are soaking up the rays. But many are reluctant to admit their ultra-violet activities. The few who will talk about them usually say they only went to the salons to prepare their skin for the shock of a sunny spring break after a dreary Cambridge winter. Since these people did it "for a reason," they're not ashamed.

Glen S. Philpott '87, of Eliot House, went to the Harvard Tanning Club before his spring break in the Bahamas for six 15-minute sessions. But Philpott wasn't satisfied with the results.

"Cosmetically, there didn't appear to be any change in my skin's tone," he says. "It didn't give me much of a base tan."

Philpott's roommate joined him on the trips to the salon and the Bahamas; he reacts similarly to his tanning salon experience.

"It may have been my fault," says Shawn L. Rose '87. "I might have been overconfident, and it may have to be done for longer than a week to be effective."

Other students attend this sun seminar more regularly, going in once or twice a week to maintain their color. They do it on the sly for the most part, however, because they only want their nearest and dearest to know. "Everyone would laugh at me," says one junior woman who asked not to be indentified. "People don't understand."

But is technological tanning all it's cracked up to be? And how safe is it?

University Health Services Director Warren E. C. Wacker gives these establishments his nod of approval. In fact, UHS uses a similar device to to treat some skin disorders. "If it's certified equipment, and the people there know how to use it--and you don't get exposed to too many of the lower-wavelength, cancer-causing rays--I think its fine," he says.

"Of course, some people who are fair-skinned are particularly prone to developing skin cancer. To be safe you would want to put on a low number sun-block in case the machine leaks a little and you get exposed to the lower-wavelength rays."

"It's safer than the sun," says Samantha P. Moore, Tanorama's manager.

Her Body Bronze counterpart agrees. "There's a difference between tanning and burning," says Wayne J. Scott.

Body Bronze's equipment is the most up-to-date available, Scott says, and shoots out the lowest percentage of the harmful beta waves possible, one-tenth of one percent. Tanorama claims to be the latest also, but its percentage of harmful beta waves is considerably higher, 2.8 percent.

"We don't want lawsuits," Scott says. "With other equipment, it's very easy to burn someone."

Enough of the scientific stuff. How much does it cost, and what does it feel like?

You can find out a lot by going in for one of the free trial sessions offered by the salons. Body Bronze will let you lie in brightly lit splendor for 15 minutes, and Tanorama will give you eight, just so you can see if you like it. And, much as you may resist, you probably will.

Packages of sessions are pretty cheap, although rates change with the seasons. Student discounts can bring the cost of a 15-minute session down to as little as $2.90 at Body Bronze. Tanorama's rates are slightly more expensive.

It's warm, quiet, and comfortable in the curved acrylic bed. A self-contained fan system swirls cool air around your tingling epidermis as your head and feet rest on soft pillows. Goggles make it safe for your eyes. You can listen to music, sleep or just let your thoughts wander, secure in the knowledge that double timer systems will turn the lights off automatically.

Try it. It's tantalizing.

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