Sunless Tan

By Sarah Wood
Published on June 14, 2005 in The Ocala Star-Banner

The debate all seems a bit shady: the suntan.

Society idolizes the healthy, slimming, must-have summer glow while most dermatologists deem it as a no-good carcinogenic wrinkle-maker. But is it possible to have a tint of high-fashion beauty while at the same time avoiding all the long-term muck? .

As your recently bronzed reporter, I surprisingly say, yes. The solution, believe it or not, is the fake stuff. Call it what you will – tan in a can, bronze in a bottle –the ultraviolet-free, self-tanning solutions are the only safe way to tan, said Ocala Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center’s Dr. Kathryn Holloway, who uses the products herself.

“There’s no way to tan safely (with UV rays) without damaging your DNA,” Holloway said, adding that the rays also destruct the skin’s collagen and elastic fibers, which causes premature aging. The self tanners, she said are a fat better choice.

The next tricky stage: How well do they work and which products perform better? It’ll vary, of course, but a first-hand look at one type may offer some aid to the seekers of darker complexions.

Spray it on

It’s a personal grievance of mine that “fair” and “peaches-and-cream” descriptions have given way to “pale” and “pasty.”

“Pastiest of them all” just doesn’t have the same appeal. Still, that’s the type of skin I’ve had for the past few years. Although I tan easily when my skin has the chance, I’ve avoided long sun exposure and loaded on the sunscreen, securing my pasty status.

Then, I got this assignment, which included two Ocala tanning-spa trips for a couple applications of Mystic Tan, a brand name spray-tan technology that’s been around since the late ‘90s.

So I tried it. Twice.

The first application of the mechanically administered mist provided me with a base tan that gave the appearance of, as one of my coworkers put it, a “Jennifer Aniston glow.” While looking like one of the TV stars from the show “Friends” isn’t that bad, I did not have the deep tan of a regular outdoor sunbather. Before and after photos taken for this assignment didn’t show much of a difference.

It looked natural and healthy, though, with no streaking or orange coloring. My knuckles appeared slightly over colored, but that way because I didn’t put on enough barrier cream, a lotion type substance that keeps the spray from staining one’s palms, knuckles, nails and feel.

In order to receive a deep tan, most vendors recommend a second spray 24 hours after the first. Then, in order to maintain that look, it’s recommended to come back for one spray every four to five days, according to the company’s Web site.

That’s when the price alarm sounds.

Depending on the location, level of spraying and club membership, the cost can range between $20 and $35 a session.

Many patrons opt to do the procedure only on special occasions.

But life-long Ocala tanner, Rachail Allen, 38, says it’s worth the big bucks. Allen has tried everything: sunbathing, tanning beds and self-tanning creams. She says Mystic Tan has the speed, quality and UV-free promise that far outrank the rest.

“The biggest thing is time,” said Allen, who tans because it makes her feel better about herself. “I switched to Mystic Tan because it’s quicker and also because it’s healthier.”

Apparently, lots of folks are switching to this type of tan.

“They’re definitely growing in popularity,” said Lynaia Lutes, public relations counsel for Mystic Tan. “The number of Mystic Tan booths has increased 700 percent since its inception and 75 percent in the last year.”

But how quick is the process? The actual spraying time lasts about 15 seconds for the front and 15 seconds for the back.

Each time and at two different spas, I got an individual room, where the Mystic Tan booth – a blue, rectangular structure – was located. During the actual spraying, the spa employees recommend shedding all clothing, but one could wear a bathing suit or underwear with the caution of it being stained.

After watching an informational video about the procedure and being instructed individually by an employee, I was left alone with the booth.

Then, I proceeded to put on the precautionary items: a pair of tanning goggles (they were difficult to see out of), a nose filter, a hair net and the barrier cream.

According to the company, salons and Dr. Holloway no one need be leery of the chemicals. The Mystic Tan spray is comprised of dihydroxyacetone or DHA, an FDA-approved, non-toxic chemical also found in diet supplements and cosmetics; a brown-tinted dye for instant results; and Aloe Vera, a moisturizer that makes up more than 65 percent of the formula.

I entered the booth, pushed a button and stood in a position recommended by the employees – arms and legs apart with fingers spread.

Within seconds, a burst of mist came from the opposite end of the booth, feeling a little denser than theme-park water mist and slightly startling at first. Once it stopped, I turned around for another round. I finished by wiping off the excess moisture with a towel.

The tan takes approximately four to six hours to fully form. I noticed a slightly starchy smell during this time – the company attributes this to the DHA reacting with the proteins and amino acids in the skin’s superficial layer in order to form the golden-brown color – but it was not noticeable to other people (or so they told me).

The second application, two days after the first, gave me the darker tan, shown in the photo with this story. It is noticeably different from my pre tan photo.

On day four, my tan still glowed but had noticeable fading. They company’s site said fading occurs after four to five days, but both salons said that by using certain products – at additional costs – or by moisturizing and exfoliating before hand, one could maintain the tan for a week.

A note of caution: The product does not protect against the sun, and since one is not naturally tan, he or she can just as easily burn.

So what about Vitamin D?

The suntan debate is basically a look-good vs. live-well dilemma that’s made more confusing by the insertion of four separate studies reported in April.

Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and medicine at Harvard University and an author of one of the studies, stated that Americans do not get enough Vitamin D, which is primarily produced in our bodies through the sun’s ultraviolet rays and acts as a cancer-killing agent, according to the Associated Press.

Ocala Dermatologist Kathryn Holloway, however, assures we Sunshine State folk get plenty of the recommended three weekly sun soakages of about 15 minuets each just by going about our routines: checking the mail, riding in a car, walking through a parking lot.

Back to Clips