Chapel Hill News

UNC student seeks to ban free tanning

College students seeking a quick tan can often get one without ever stepping outside, because many off-campus apartment complexes offer free tanning beds.

Now a UNC student has asked the Town Council to prohibit free, unregulated tanning-bed use off-campus.

Alaina Zeitany, a junior majoring in nutrition, cited studies that have linked tanning bed use to an increased risk of developing melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer. U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak has also warned against indoor tanning (

The council referred the issue to town staff for a response at a later meeting, which is routine with citizen petitions.

Zeitany surveyed popular off-campus apartment complexes and found 26 percent offer tanning beds among their amenities. She told the council that she knows one apartment isn’t following state guidelines on indoor tanning.

“At this specific apartment, anyone can go to the desk, request the time be set on the tanning bed, and then go around the corner to a separate location and get in the tanning bed,” she said. “They do not check to see your age, if you have previously tanned that same day, or if you are even a resident of the apartment.”

One of the apartment complexes mentioned in Zeitany’s petition is Shortbread Lofts, which opened in August. Property manager Cindy Short said use of the stand-up tanning bed is highly regulated. All of the employees who operate it are licensed tanning bed operators, and the tanning bed switch is in a location that is locked after office hours.

Residents who want to use the tanning bed must complete a survey to see if tanning is safe for their skin type and sign a consumer statement. They can only tan once a day for 12 minutes or less. When they sign in to use the bed, they must show the tanning bed operator their protective eyewear.

“When weighing the risk and reward of using a tanning bed, recent research suggests that increased levels of Vitamin D that sun beds provide decrease the incidence of at least 16 internal cancers,” Short said. “So you must weigh this benefit against the possible wrinkles or increase in risk of melanoma.”

“As long as tanning beds are legal in North Carolina and as long as we are following the numerous regulations involved in state law, we feel that residents should have the freedom of will to decide for themselves whether to tan,” she said. She added that residents have been cautious in their use of the bed, with some only tanning for five minutes at a time.

Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger wrote a letter to Roger Stancil, Chapel Hill’s town manager, opposing free tanning-bed use at apartment complexes.

“People who use tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than those who have never used one… There are no health benefits derived from using a tanning bed, and, given the increased risk of skin cancer associated with their use, I cannot fathom any reason to allow this practice to continue,” she wrote. “I urge you and the Town Council to take whatever action you can to immediately stop this harmful practice,” she stated.

Timna Understein, a three-time melanoma survivor, runs the organization Respect the Rays, which educates school-age children about melanoma and sun safety. She said local tanning regulations don’t go far enough.

“Tighter regulations of tanning facilities is helpful, of course, but follow through and monitoring would be an important piece, as it seems there are facilities that do not follow the rules, as well as patrons who find a way to bypass the regulations,” she stated.

“I would love to see outreach to all of the companies that manage these apartment complexes, such as American Campus Communities, to see about removing tanning beds as an amenity,” she added.