06/15/2012 02:51 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2012

Tanning Salons Face New Cancer Causing Safety Concerns

Sun (lamp) worshippers can't catch a break, and neither can the small-business owners catering to them. In a study commissioned by ABC News, a common chemical in spray tan solutions -- dihydroxyacetone, or DHA -- was found to possibly cause cancer. This is only the latest blow to hit the tanning industry after a "tanorexic" New Jersey woman was accused of putting her 5-year-old daughter in a tanning bed and lawmakers imposed a 10 percent indoor tanning tax.

Earlier this week, ABC News released a report in which several researchers and medical doctors weighed in on the lesser-known implications of DHA. The studies, which exposed DHA to non-human cells, showed that the chemical could cause genetic alterations and DNA damage, possibly resulting in complications like cancer. The skin-darkening compound was approved by the FDA in 1977 for external use, however use of the chemical in spray tan solutions allows the chemical to be inhaled.

Spray tanning, widely accepted as the safer form of indoor sunning, has seen a boost in business as more patrons revert from the harsh ultraviolet lights of tanning beds. "My business has tripled," said Jerri Rush, owner of Healthy Tan in Loomis, Calif. Rush's studio only performs airbrush tanning services, in which a technician applies a liquid tanning solution using an airbrush gun. "When the report came out, I sent out a communication to all of my clients, reminding them of how important I have always treated ventilation," said Rush, who airbrushes around eight clients a day. Rush said despite age restriction laws and medical reports, her business has grown tremendously. "A lot of parents aren't letting their kids go tanning anymore and instead have turned to airbrush tanning," she said. "You have to get out of the sun and tanning beds for your overall health and the condition of your skin and that's why I feel so strongly about airbrushing."

Across the country, Chad Ocheltree isn't seeing such positive effects. "Our business naturally slows down this time of year, but overall this year has definitely been slower and it seems it's from a lot of misinformation," said Ocheltree, who owns Topus Tanning Salon in Waldorf, Md. Ochletree, like other salon owners, restricts bed use for minors, who now must have signed parental consent in order to tan indoors. "We take care to explain certain things," he said. "We just don't let them go in for however long or often they want."

Still, both business owners are feeling ambushed. "From the time the story broke, I airbrushed nearly 30 women and not one person mentioned the study to me, " said Rush. "The business has been around for 15 years or so and no one has gotten sick, so I don't think it's really a big concern." Concern or not, small business owners feel helpless against political and medical campaigns against tanning. "[The medical community is] doing a lot of bashing and we have no way to protect ourselves," said Ocheltree.