Spa Tan Safely Year-Round
"Don't worry; it's as if I were spraying Coke on you," says Dan Carter, the owner of Sun Coast Tanning and Day Spa in Coral Springs, Florida, to clients getting a handheld airbrush spray tan. That's because the "tan" comes from dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a colorless sugar usually made of sugar beets or sugarcane. It interacts with the dead surface cells in the top layer of the skin, staining it darker. As the cells naturally slough off, in a week or so, the color fades. Invented in the '60s, the product was refined in the '80s to produce more consistent, less orange-tinted results.
A spray-on tan poses no risks to your skin and health, and DHA was FDA approved long ago. (It's not approved for internal use or on eyes, lips, or other surfaces covered by a mucous membrane, so cover those areas during tanning, and avoid inhaling the products.)
With a handheld airbrush, the aesthetician can apply different amounts to different areas as necessary. Areas that are round (legs, arms) are more challenging than stomachs and chests. Aesthetician Audrey McCready of Spa Therapy in Yuba City, California, says a trained, experienced person can recontour the body --"for example, by darkening the area between the breasts to accentuate the cleavage."
At Juva Medispa in New York City, aestheticians use a handheld mister, which they say causes less streaking than an airbrush, and they have clients lie down rather than stand. But both mister and airbrush applications require time (about half an hour) and patience.
While some people appreciate the attention to detail an aesthetician provides, others prefer the quick 20-second fix of an automated spray booth. Marylyn Reed of Bergamo Spa Retreat in Friendwood, Texas, which offers a Mystic Tan, says, "For me, it's good enough; I'm not wearing a bikini!" With Mystic, you can choose a light or dark tan that appears instantly or over the course of three hours. But Reed notes that there's a difference between a spa experience and a visit to an assembly-line tanning parlor. "In a spa, you get upscale, quality treatment, a nice room, and privacy."
A compromise between the speed of a booth tan and the precision of hand application is being offered at Prima Day Spa in Wilmington, North Carolina. Called HVLP (high volume/low pressure) turbine tanning, it allows a technician to apply a custom tan in just three to five minutes, says Jennifer Saucier, a co-owner of Prima and Goodspa, the system's manufacturer.
No matter how you get your sunless tan, your skin should be prepared. If it's oily or wet, the tanning product won't soak in; if it's too dry, the product may flake off. It takes best on freshly exfoliated skin. If you can't have a professional job, do your own scrub. "Concentrate on areas where skin is driest --elbows, feet, and hands," advises aesthetician Laurie Kwasnicka of Juva Medispa. "Dry patches soak in more solution, creating an uneven result, and are especially likely to flake away."
Following a treatment, you can use a tan extender, a product that generally contains moisturizers plus DHA, on areas that the aesthetician missed or where the tan is fading. The tan will last longer if you avoid saltwater and don't scrub too hard when you shower.
A sunless tan is not only safe but available year-round and just where you need it --say, the skin you'll bare in a strapless gown. One of Dan Carter's customers, a jogger, comes in to tan only her feet.