Katrina Fackelmann — with her fish-tail braid hanging midway down her back and a smile adorned with braces — looks like the quintessential high school student.
But neither the 17-year-old’s youthful looks nor her date of birth carefully penned on consent forms raised the eyebrows of tanning salons across the city of Hamilton.
All five salons that the teenager visited in a test conducted by CBC News allowed her into the tanning bed rooms, despite voluntary industry guidelines that state salons should request parental consent for minors.
"They just let me in," said Fackelmann after one of the salons allowed her entry.
The local results mirror findings across the country. In total, 65 per cent of the tanning salons tested — 20 cases out of 31 in six cities — allowed the teenager into the tanning room. When allowed in, the teenager did not actually use the tanning bed.
Ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds cause cancer and rank in the highest risk category of carcinogens, alongside tobacco and asbestos, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research.
"The younger you are when you start using them, the higher the chance of getting melanoma," said Dr. Ian Landells, former president of the Canadian Dermatology Association. "So if you use a tanning bed once between the age of 18 and 25 — once — you’ve increased your risk of melanoma 41 per cent."
The fact that local salons across the country opened up their tanning beds to teens without parental consent didn’t surprise Landells, but he called it "very disturbing."
Though it’s not currently against the law in much of Canada, Landells argues that tanning should be illegal for minors, as is alcohol.
The World Health Organization warns that people younger than 18 should avoid tanning beds. It’s a warning the Canadian Cancer Society has taken one step further, calling for all minors to be barred from using them.
Laws vary across the country. Nova Scotia has banned anyone under 19 from using tanning beds since early 2011. Newfoundland recently proposed a law with the same age.
On Tuesday, Quebec passed a law barring the sale of tanning services to those under 18, while B.C. plans to pass regulations this fall. Victoria and surrounding communities already have a municipal ban in place.
Other provinces have elected to allow teens to tan with parental consent. Manitoba introduced such regulation, which takes effect this June.
In Ontario, NDP MPP and health critic France Gelinas introduced a private member’s bill — the Skin Cancer Prevention Act — this April and it passed first reading. This is Gelinas’ third time trying to get the bill passed.
One in 10 teens tan
A recent Ipsos Reid poll found that nearly one in 10 Ontario youths are using tanning beds, more than before. And the largest jump is after students enter Grade 12, shows the online survey of nearly 1,500 teens conducted in April on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society.
'If even five of those students out of 100 listen to me then I feel like I did my job.'—Melanoma survivor Kate Neale
Kate Neale, 22, still remembers getting tanned while in high school – and ramping up her sessions ahead of prom.
"I was probably the most tanned I had ever been at that time because I remember I tanned pretty much every single day before prom for about a month," says the Belleville, Ont. resident.
Neale, who began tanning at 16 and worked at a salon after graduation, was diagnosed with melanoma in June 2011. Caught in its early stages, doctors surgically removed it a couple months later, leaving Neale with a six-inch scar.
The woman who once idolized sun-kissed celebrities like Paris Hilton now seeks to educate high school students on the dangers of tanning beds.
"If even five of those students out of 100 listen to me then I feel like I did my job and something positive will come out of this," said Neale.
Industry calls for government regulation
Steven Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, which represents over 600 salons across Canada, states that their industry regulation is influenced by Health Canada recommendations. The association has a voluntary guideline that requires parental consent for tanners under 18.
"Our guideline, which we started to enforce last year, was under 18," said Gilroy. "We’re moving in that direction and hopefully all of our salons move to the 18."
While Gilroy wants to see government-regulated standards, he argues that it’s unnecessary to ban minors, which strips parents of their right to consent to their child tanning.
"It’s like saying, OK, from this point on, we’re going to ban everyone under the age of 18 from taking sunny vacations."
Hamilton locations tested
In Hamilton, each local tanning salon varied in the length of time they recommended — from six minutes to 12 — for the 17-year-old student, who visited as a first-time patron. An employee of one salon had the teen tester fill in her form after the tanning session had finished.
CBC Hamilton contacted all five local tanning salons involved in its test.
"To be honest, this is the first I've heard of this," said Glow Tanning salon manager Laurie about the voluntary industry regulations when reached on the phone.
Manager of Fahrenheit Tanning at 1124 Main St. W., who only identified herself as Jen, stated she was aware of the regulations, but noted she'd taken over the salon four days earlier.
"I just got a bunch of information," said Jen. "I'm going to be better educated."
The owner of Sunkist Tan did not return a call requesting comment.
The manager at Electric Beach, located at 875 Main St. W., who refused to give her name, said she was aware of the policy. "I had already stated that fact with the girls, so I will get on it again," she said.
Other local practices
A Sol'exotica Tanning Spa salon, a chain with 24 locations across the Golden Horseshoe, was also among those tested in Hamilton.
Sol'exotica co-founder Mike Nafekh says the chain's current policy is to allow those aged 16 or under into the salon with parental consent for a single sessions or packages. But it requires parental consent under 18 for some of its membership offerings because a contract is involved.
'It's something that we are not aware of and we have no problems changing.'—Sol'exotica co-founder Mike Nafekh
"Our current policy is 17 and up can tan without parental consent," said Nafekh, but added that he's open to changing the policy .
"It's something that we are not aware of and we have no problems changing," said Nafekh about the industry's recommendations. "We want to run responsibly."
Melanoma surviver Neale says current voluntary industry regulations should be enforced, but Canada needs to take it a step further.
"I think that for vanity reasons that tanning beds should be banned completely," said Neale. "There's so much misleading information out there. What I had to go through was small in comparison to what other people have had to go through with melanoma.
"But I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy."