A Fabutan tanning salon in Winnipeg says it will fire an employee who allowed a teenager into a tanning room without parental consent.

The company was responding to a CBC News test in which a 16-year-old girl was asked to visit tanning salons in Winnipeg to find out whether she would be allowed to use a tanning bed.

Regulations in Manitoba requiring parental consent for minors to use a tanning bed do not come into effect until June 15, but a national tanning industry group has had a voluntary guideline saying salons should get parental permission for customers under the age of 18.

The World Health Organization is among the agencies raising concerns over tanning beds because they emit ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer.

In the CBC News test, the teenage girl went to five Winnipeg salons and did not reveal her age unless she was asked.

Fabutan representative disappointed

All but one salon allowed her into their tanning rooms. Once allowed in, the girl did not use the tanning beds.

The Fabutan at 1921 Pembina Highway was one of the salons that allowed the teen in, despite a longstanding company policy that minors must provide parental consent.

"That is actually very disappointing because we do have the Teen Tan Plan in place, and all of our staff do know that somebody under the age of 18 does require parental consent prior to their first session," Kelly Karam, Fabutan's representative in Manitoba, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"For that particular employee, they will be terminated," she said.

Karam said Fabutan takes very seriously the issue of parental consent, pointing out that it's a policy the company voluntarily adopted 20 years ago.

'I'm not overly concerned about that": TanFX official

But at other Winnipeg salons, there was less concern.

TanFX at 166 Meadowood Dr. also allowed the teenage tester into its tanning room without her parents' permission.

"I'm not overly concerned about that. I think my staff is really good. That location's been around for 12 years," said Kathy Litton, vice-president of TanFX Franchise Corp.

"I don't have any major concerns because I don't have any major concerns with underage tanning. I know that as soon as those people come in and purchase their minutes, my girls are going to take care of them.

"I have a philosophy that we are responsible tanning salon operators at TanFX; we're very educated," Litton added.

Other salons allowed teen in

At Before the Beach on 225 Marion St., the teen was allowed into the tanning room.

"I don't have a problem with that," said the salon's manager, who would only give CBC News her first name, Cindy.

"Since the day I opened, my forms have had a parental signature. I gave her the form, told her she needs to bring it back signed. They are still allowed to go for a tan," Cindy said, noting that provincial regulations are not yet in effect.

"I take pride in my salon and taking care of my clients and making sure they don't overdo it," she added.

Body Shades on Portage Avenue was the fourth salon that allowed the teen into the tanning room without parental consent. A manager there was not available for comment.

South Beach Tan and Travel on Kenaston Boulevard was the only salon in that test group where the teenager was told she would need a parent to come in and sign. A call from CBC News seeking comment was not returned.

Nationwide tests

CBC News conducted similar tests in six Canadian cities, and overall the teenage testers were allowed into tanning rooms without parental consent at 20 out of 31 salons.

An additional test in Winnipeg at five different tanning salons used a different methodology.

In that test, the teen visited the salon and verbally stated at the outset that her age is 16. As with the first test, she did not present a letter of consent from her parents.

In that test, three tanning salons turned the young girl away:

  • Fabutan at 2595 Main St.
  • TanFX at 2419 McPhillips St.
  • Midnight Sun Tanning Salon at 1030 Keewatin St.

The two salons that did allow her into their tanning rooms were Sundaze Tanning on 2539 Main St. and Alexandria Body Sugaring and the Tanning Hut on Waterfront Drive.

Sundaze Tanning did not respond to a request for comment.

Tanning is safe, salon owner says

At Alexandria, owner Tanya Thiessen told CBC News her salon usually does get parental consent.

But in the case of the tester, she said the employee allowed the girl into a tanning room after verifying that the new Manitoba regulation requiring parental consent was not yet in effect.

"If you're going to be tanning safely at minimal amounts, an appropriate amount of times without overdoing it, I think tanning is safe," Thiessen said.

"However, I can understand parents' concerns and I’m more than happy to comply with it," she added, referring to the new provincial regulations.

But some experts, like St. John's dermatologist Dr. Ian Landells, dispute the idea that tanning beds are safe.

"The WHO categorizes artificial tanning as a Group 1 carcinogen. That states that they are carcinogenic to human beings.  Not 'they may be,' not 'they can be' — they are carcinogenic," said Landells, a past president of the Canadian Dermatology Association.

"The only other things in that category are arsenic, asbestos, and tobacco."

While several provinces have recently adopted plans to ban youths from using tanning machines, Manitoba opted instead to allow teens to use them with parental consent, as proposed by the industry group Joint Canadian Tanning Association since at least 2010.