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Under the UV Sun

Base tans are the new teen fashion must. Well, that and melanoma.

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Diana's legs are white. And the prom is just four weeks away.

But she's out there, beneath the sun, playing football. Diana is a seventeen-year-old senior at Pleasanton's Amador Valley High School, and this is the annual "Powder Puff Game," wherein senior girls play against the junior girls -- hair twirled in pigtails, eye-black smeared across their cheekbones. And the guys? Well, they're in drag, performing as cheerleaders.

After the game, which is really a fund-raiser and an exercise in school spirit, Diana and her pals chill at the sideline and start talking about the upcoming prom. Pretty soon, talk turns to a tan. As in, the tan.

Not just how to get one, but how to get a good one. A bronze one, an even one -- one that'll look awesome in the prom pictures.

Afterward, Diana explains the specifics of a solid tan job.

Can't be too dark. "That'd look gross," she says.

And it can't be a rush job, leaving the seared glow of a lobster. "Looking burnt?" she asks. "Uh, no."

And most of all, the tan won't leave the dreaded strap marks, those white stripes of skin across the shoulders and hips that are usually protected by clothing, but in a slinky evening dress would serve to contrast the bronzed skin next to it.

"You don't want a farmer's tan," Diana says.

And really, who does?

Diana knows the sun is a dangerous thing. In the past, she's tried to harness it for her tanning needs, but it has proven too difficult to control and, ultimately, unforgivable. It has burned her skin and made it peel. This risk is especially unwanted now, just weeks before the prom.

Like most people, Diana also knows that sunburns are not only painful, but bad for her health, and can kick-start skin cancers, such as melanoma, which can lead to death if not diagnosed in time.

So it comes to her: Indoor tanning. Diana does a little research that includes talking to her friends and mom and surfing the Internet, and they all decide, okay, let's give it a try. Plenty of girls at her school already do it. No one that she knows has ever gotten sick from it, she says. Maybe a couple girls have gone under the lamps too long and come out looking orange. But other than that, no biggie.

Diana finds a coupon for Tropical Solutions, an East Bay chain that offers unlimited tanning-bed visits for $38 a month. She breaks it down: If she goes two or three times a week, that's only three or four bucks a visit. That's doable.

So she drives to the Danville location, parks her car, talks to the person behind the counter, and discovers that since she's seventeen, she'll need a signed parental consent form. So she goes back home, gets her mom to sign it, and returns. Now she's ready.

The place is airy and clean and smells of coconut lotion. It's divided into a series of numbered booths with white doors, like the entrances to some sort of waterfront cabanas. Diana walks into a room featuring a chair, a long horizontal tanning bed opened up like a submarine sandwich, and a towel and squirt bottle for cleaning up the bed afterward.

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