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Sector Spotlight: Tanning Salons

The tanning salon is a staple throughout the beauty industry.

Awareness of the health risks of using sunbeds is widely-known across South Africa however – so to succeed in this industry, you should fully educate yourself on the adverse effects of using tanning booths, whilst at the same time considering other revenue streams within your business from the outset.

Health and Beauty is a global phenomenon which, now, stretches across all demographics. Even in the height of grooming, pampering and ‘manscaping’ however, there is still a huge importance in knowing the health ramifications to your standard tanning salon. 

Facts and figures

  • On the digital version of the Yellow Pages, there is a total of 40 web-advertised beauty facilities that include a sunbed
  • The northern province of Gauteng has the highest number of facilities with a sunbed
  • Beauty facilities advertised specifically mentioning sunbeds declined by 62% between 2010-2014
  • In South Africa, skin cancer accounts for one-third of all histologically-diagnosed cancers
  • Most tanning beds emit mainly UVA rays, which increases the risk of malignant melanoma
  • South Africa currently has no legislation or code of practice governing indoor tanning  


According to a bench mark study conducted in 2016, the spa and beauty industry revenue is R380m per annum; however this does not take into account smaller salons in South Africa.

The beauty sector continues to show strong growth, with many customers seeking professional treatments and services that they are unable to achieve themselves at home.

According to Dr Nadine de Freitas, head of the South African Spa Association, despite the recession, growth in the spa industry is between 15-20%.

For entrepreneurs who are keen to capitalise on this burgeoning sector, operating a tanning salon could be a great way to make your mark on the industry.

One of the big players in the tanning sector is Solarscape; a nationwide sunbed company who has been operating for more than 25 years. The business has around 35 locations throughout South Africa and is a keen member of The International Smart Tan Network in Michigan, USA, who aim to educate people on responsible sunbed use.


Before you commit to starting a tanning salon business, it is important to note that many South Africans oppose the use of sunbeds.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), South Africa has the second highest rate of skin cancer in the world, after Australia, with many citizens believing there is no such thing as a ‘safe tan’.

Many tanning salons aim to educate their customers to avoid sunburn from the intense UV radiation. However, in 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer officially classified ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices, such as tanning booths or sunbeds, as carcinogenic to human health.

Statistics found by Cansa also proved that people who use tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

Starting out in the industry 

There are a few routes of entry into the tanning salon business, you could consider what beauty franchise opportunities are available.

Operating a beauty salon that also has tanning booths means that you are not solely reliant on one income stream, and you can offer other beauty treatments, which could help keep your business afloat if the sunbed industry becomes heavily regulated in the future.

For some more seasoned entrepreneurs, starting a business from scratch and finding the perfect location would be the most-preferred route into the beauty industry.

Deciding what premises is right for your business is a very important decision you will have to make at the beginning of your venture.

You should choose a spot that is easily-accessible, with a high footfall of passing traffic for both pedestrians and drivers. You also need your business to be located on a street that has ample parking facilities.

Essential skills

There are many skills that transfer over a number of different industries, such as proficient administration skills, solid bookkeeping and accounting, great marketing and customer-relations.

However, some businesses will demand owners to have specific knowledge in the sector.

As a tanning salon operator, you should have a clear understanding of how tanning booths work and the effects of UV rays and over-exposure to sunbeds.

Becoming a member of an industry association can be very beneficial to help keep abreast with news and developments within the industry.

The South African Association of Health and Skincare Professionals (SAAHSP), established in 1972, are a credible educator in the beauty industry.

SAAHSP offers a number of benefits to members, such as constant education in the industry, regional functions, seminars and workshops, support on pricing and costing of treatments; as well as salary structure advice.

Buying a tanning salon 

For entrepreneurs who prefer to operate independently, buying an established beauty business or tanning parlour could be the best route to take.

Always consider why the vendor is selling their business; it could be because they plan to retire or even perhaps they have rundown the business and are now forced into bankruptcy.

The current state of the company should reflect in the price. It is important for any aspiring entrepreneur to conduct due diligence on any business before making an offer; this could be achieved by overseeing the daily operations of the business or reviewing the last few years of figures and accounts.

Krystena Griffin

About the author

Krystena Griffin writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.


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