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I used to work at a chain tanning salon’s Maryland and New York locations. Tan Mom is so scary, she’s so gross. But some of the people I worked with were that level of tan. We would rig the booth, so they could go in multiple times when they weren’t supposed to. We also used this stuff called Tingler, which is a tanning lotion that you put all over your body. When the UV rays hit it, it tingles and it activates the melanin in your skin even more so you get really, really tan. I know girls who would put it on their face and their faces would be purple when they came out of the booth. You’re not supposed to wash it off after going under the lamps, so your skin would be burning. That was the next level tanning experience — they’d come out and look just crazy purple. I could not do that. And it is legal but it’s really dangerous. We would always advise customers of the different Tingle levels. If you do a level 5 Tingle your skin will burn, so we recommend a level 1 or 2 Tingle.
I would just put on Australian Gold tanning oil. Tan Mom? I’m sure she has Tingled — she probably does something beyond a Tingle, her skin is crispy. But that’s what this stuff would do — it would literally make you that tan.
I worked in the salons before the age restriction laws took effect but we always had a rule in place that you had to be 18 or older to tan, and if not you’d have to have a parent with you. We’d check IDs, and the high school kids, if you didn’t let them tan, would be pissed.
In Maryland moms brought their kids to the tanning beds. They’d be as young as 12 years old up in the tanning bed. I felt wrong putting the kids in the beds, but the mom would always say things like, “We gotta tan for the beach.” The moms would tan too. In Maryland tanning was such a thing — everyone wanted to be tan — so the kids were just happy they got to go to the tanning salon with mom. But I never saw anyone as young as five years old try to tan. I would never put anyone that young in a tanning booth.
In New York the place I worked had been a 24-hour tanning salon. Nobody needs a 24-hour tanning salon. Everyone was coked up all night trying to get people to tan. When they hired me, they also hired a bunch of new people and got rid of the old cracked-out people, but we still had to stay open til midnight. Nobody needs to be tanning at midnight.
A lot of people did not care about being naked. I saw so many naked booties all the time because a lot of them would leave their shoes outside and run around willy-nilly just wearing a towel.
We caught people having sex in the booth once. It was two guys and we had to bang on the bulbs and tell them to stop. They were not even being discreet about it, either — we could see it moving and we saw two pairs of shoes outside. We kicked one of them out of that booth. They still got to tan but we didn’t let them tan together.
I worked with these flighty girls. Once a midget came in and one of my coworkers just screamed and ran to the back. That was really bad. I helped the midget, but the midget saw my coworker run and everything.
Once, this woman came in who wasn’t a regular customer. We offered deals like $30 for unlimited tanning for a month, but she wanted a one-off. She kept asking all these questions about how to use a booth (we only had standing booths) and you always explain to people how the booth works and where the exit is once you’re in there. It all looks the same once you’re inside because there are bulbs on the doors. But you can open the door once you’re tanning — people step out all the time to cool off for a minute.
But this girl was in the booth and she wanted to get out and couldn’t find the exit, even though it’s labeled “exit.” She called us over and we said, ma’am look for the exit sign, and she’s like, “I can’t find it! I cant’ find it!” So she started banging the walls of the booth — she was having a panic attack in there — and you can hear all the bulbs breaking. And they’re still on! So my coworker rushed to unplug the booth because you can’t turn it off or open it from the outside. So when he opened the door — I’m squeamish so I couldn’t look — but my coworker told me there was blood and glass everywhere. We had to call the ambulance — she cut up her arms and everything.
Also, this is really gross, but wa lot of the time our laundry machine in the basement would go out. And we want to give everyone a towel every time they tan. But a couple times when we didn’t have the washing machine, our manager would tell us just to put the dirty towels in the dryer and not wash them. I was like, we could take them to a laundromat, but they didn’t want to do that because it cost money.
As told to Amy Odell.