China's bronze age
Updated: 2011-09-23 11:46
By Zhang Xi (China Daily)
In a nation where white skin is beloved, tanning salons push on
While most Chinese people, especially women, are trying every method to cultivate a paler hue of skin color, some are starting to go for the sun-kissed look.
In sophisticated cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, tanning salons are slowly popping up.
"Our business has grown quickly in the past couple of years," says Tao Ran, manager of Mega Sun tanning salon in Beijing. When the salon opened in 2009, they had a hard time drumming up business. But now he boasts that they have more than 5,000 members.
During the business hours of 10 am to 9 pm, their four tanning beds are rarely empty, he says. "Business on the weekends is better than during the week," he says.
"Normally, a customer lies on a tanning bed for eight to 10 minutes, which costs them 47 yuan (5 euros) to 60 yuan," Tao says. "We don't encourage them to tan for a long time to earn more money. Everyone's skin condition is different. Our instructors provide professional suggestions to every member."
He says about 70 percent of customers are Chinese and 60 percent of their clients are male. "Many of them are models and entertainers. Some people born in the 1990s are also tanning to be different."
Their tanning beds were imported from Germany, according to Tao, with the most expensive one costing 600,000 yuan.
"I am positive in the future of the tanning market in Beijing and am preparing to open a branch here."
His views are echoed by Shen Yang, manager of Black Golden Tanning Studio in Beijing, which opened in 2009.
He says the number of members continues to rise by 10 to 20 percent every year. Between 80 and 100 regular customers come in daily and most of them are younger than 35. He also says half of their customers are Chinese.
"The business is not bad and we have opened our first branch in this city. Together we have five tanning beds, which cost about 300,000 yuan each," Shen says.
"Although Shanghai is the first city in China to have indoor tanning salons, Beijing is catching up."
They believe foreign influence has convinced locals to give tanning a try. There are at least five tanning salons in Beijing and 10 in Shanghai.
But the closure of China's first tanning club this year may show the fair-skinned ideal is still prevalent today.
MH tanning salon, which opened in Shanghai in 2004, attracted media attention because some believed it may lead the tanning industry to blossom in China.
"We closed our salon this year since it wasn't profitable anymore," says Alex He, co-owner of the salon. "We did have a good time, but now we are outsiders of the industry. From this perspective, I don't think the tanning industry in China is currently developing."
In 2006, the MH salon attracted more than 10,000 customers to soak up rays, most of them foreigners.
The future of tanning salons is still uncertain, because those with darker complexions are divided into two categories. One group thinks they should keep their skin bronzed and can't bear to see their skin become white again. The other group doesn't want to be tanned anymore, since they are negatively perceived by most of society.
Xu Lin is a white-collar employee in Beijing who spends her lunch break visiting a tanning salon. "I love to travel and often sunbathe overseas. I believe bronzed skin makes me look healthier and more fashionable. My skin looks silky after being tanned. My boyfriend said I am more confident and attractive now."
While Xu is happily enjoying her tanning experience, Zhao Zhao, also a career woman, gave up her efforts at keeping her a darker skin color.
Zhao was sent to study in Britain for a year by her company and recently returned to Beijing. She frequently visited tanning salons. "When I was flying back to Beijing, I believed my friends would be jealous of my sun-kissed skin, since I looked more European," she says.
But she received just the opposite reaction from her family and colleagues. "My female colleagues kept advising me about various kinds of skin-whitening products. And they believed I must have had a hard life abroad. Even my mom thinks I suffered a lot because of my brown skin."
While skin-whitening products have been available in China for years, their tanning counterparts can hardly be found. Famous skincare brands like L' Oreal Paris and Clinique do sell such kind of products in other parts of the world, but China is certainly not on their horizons. Local firm Shanghai Jahwa doesn't plan on producing tanning products in China either.
"The tanning industry can't shake Chinese people's deep-rooted view of skin tones, though a few people, including women, are starting to accept tanning. The number of them can't be compared with that of skin-whitening counterparts," says Xiao Bu, a skin care specialist who is a guest host of TV programs.
Tanning still seems a long way from denting the multimillion-dollar market of skin-whitening creams. But for Westerners, tanning has been available for decades.
According to the Indoor Tanning Association, Europeans started tanning indoors with sunlamps that emitted ultraviolet (UV) light as a therapeutic exercise to harness the positive effects of exposure to UV light. This practice became widespread in Europe, particularly in the sun-deprived countries in the 1970s. Several years later, it entered the American market.
In the United Sates, about 10 percent of the public visits a tanning facility each year.
There are about 19,000 professional indoor tanning facilities employing about 160,000 people.
But indoor tanning may pose a risk to customers' health.
According to a report last year by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunlamps and tanning beds promise consumers a bronzed body year-round, but the ultraviolet radiation from these devices can pose serious health risks if the skin is exposed to UV rays for too long.
Zheng Zhizhong, a dermatologist at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, suggested those who want to try indoor tanning beds or sunbathe outside control their exposure time to the light. "Wear goggles while tanning your skin indoors, otherwise your eyes will likely be damaged," he warns.
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