Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal
A cancer scare led Tammy Johnson to find a safer way to tan. She has since opened Ignite Sunless Tanning.February 02, 2014 4:00 pm • DOLLY A. BUTZ
SIOUX CITY | Tammy Johnson survived melanoma, and then she took on an unexpected business venture. She opened a tanning salon.
But you won't find any tanning beds at Ignite Sunless Tanning, which is UV-free. The business at 2816 Hamilton Blvd., features custom airbrush tanning and automated sunless tanning booths.
The word "sunless," Johnson said, doesn't register with some customers seeking to bronze their bodies under bright blubs. When they ask, "Where are the tanning beds?" Johnson takes the opportunity to tell her story and show the long four-inch scar on the back of her right arm that a spray tan helps disguise.
"My scar over the years has gotten lighter and less prominent," she said. "It seemed like the first couple years it was really ropey looking. I was very self-conscious about it. Now it's almost like a tool here."
In 2009, the now 35-year-old wife and mother of a 10-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old stepson was diagnosed with skin cancer after a routine physical.
During the appointment, Johnson said her doctor examined a mole about the size of a pinhead on the back of her right arm that was a little redder than the other moles on her body. She requested that the mole be removed to give her peace of mind.
That same day, the doctor biopsied the mole and sent it off to the pathology lab for examination. A few days later, Johnson's doctor called her to deliver the bad news: she had melanoma.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. In 2010, 68,130 of these were invasive melanomas.
Johnson, who was working at the June E. Nylen Cancer Center at the time with her husband Jeremy -- he in the information technology department and she in fundraising and marketing -- was shocked.
"Working there you hear about the different types of cancer and different ways of preventing cancer. Even though you know cancer can happen to anybody, you still don't think about it really happening to you," she explained.
Luckily, the melanoma was only half a millimeter deep, and it hadn't spread to Johnson's lymph nodes or bloodstream. A surgeon excised one centimeter of normal tissue surrounding the melanoma. Johnson continues to see a dermatologist and an oncologist twice a year, as she is at high risk for this most deadly form of skin cancer reoccurring.
"You're supposed to be very vigilant looking at your skin daily and using sunscreen every day, especially during the summer, but even during the winter," she said.
Although Johnson did a little tanning in high school, she said she believes her fair skin received most of its sun damage during summer trips to the Onawa, Iowa, pool as a child.
Johnson. who had a season pass, rode her bike to the pool in the morning and essentially stayed there all day, returning home only for lunch and dinner.
"I remember getting some really bad sunburns," she said. "I'm sure sunscreen was available, but it wasn't that big of a deal on the surface of everybody's consciousness."
A BUSINESS IS BORN
After her skin cancer diagnosis, Johnson still longed to be tan on vacation. She went to Kensington Sunless Tanning, which previously occupied the space she rents, for a spray tan.
When Kensington closed last April, Johnson, who lives close by, saw an opportunity.
"It was just one of those things that all kind of fell into place," she said. "I love makeup and different products and skin care things."
Johnson took the space that was already in place and changed a few things to make the business her own. She tossed around potential names with her husband, always coming back to "Ignite," which she said resonated with them.
Ignite Sunless Tanning opened its doors on Aug. 5. Every month, Johnson said business improves. She said customers in the 30 to 50 age range, who formerly used tanning beds, come in on a daily basis in search of that brown glow. A tan, Johnson said, can boost confidence.
"They used to tan a lot in tanning beds, but they know they can't do that anymore," she said. "But they still want that color, especially when they're going to the beaches or sunny places where they're going to be wearing shorts or swimsuits."