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Spray-on tanning: The fake baked look in 60 seconds

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 23, 2002



SHERMAN OAKS, CALIF.

Every once in a great while, a scientific innovation comes along that is so powerful, ingenious, and universal in its application that its implications for all of mankind must be trumpeted loudly.

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To help kill time until that happens, here's a lightweight feature on a new tanning option for those of us who still look like albino chickens halfway through summer.

Recently, I was forced by compelling circumstances (transmission failure to headquarters of a more important story) to check out this cutting-edge development in sunless tanning: Spray-on skin bronzing booths.

Beyond bottle tans, beyond radiation booths, beyond electric tanning beds, the new, coast-to-coast rage is a machine that mists you front and back in just 60 seconds – like a car wash or body-shop paint vaporizer. The "tan" takes a couple of hours to set up and then gradually fades after four to five days, like other sunless tanning products. But it boasts a far more even, and thus more genuine, look.

From, Chicago to Shreveport, Jacksonville to Jackson Hole, the innovation – under such names as Mystic Tan UV-free system or Mist-On – is popping up at tanning huts.

In California, ground zero for national narcissism, word of mouth is so loud that those who still don't know about it must either silence proponents with a giant sock, or give it a try.

I was fresh out of giant socks. I also, of course, had the motive of consumer edification and safety, the journalist's canon to separate fluff from substance – and the suspicion my editors weren't paying close attention when I passed this idea by them. So I hurried to check it out.

The Dallas cheerleader look

Locating the nearest outlet via the Internet, I made a small drive, paid $20, and sat down to watch the three-minute instructional video for the Mystic Tan process (billed as the "Official Tan Of The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders"). Following directions, I stepped into a small side room and stripped to my birthday suit. I covered palms and fingernails with a protective cream, stuffed my hair into a gauze bonnet (exposing ears and hairline) and pushed open another door into a 7-foot by 8-foot closet.

Mimicking the video model, I stood with my arms hanging like a gorilla to expose underarms and protect against embarrassing armpit lines. After pushing the green "start" button, a three-pronged sprayer exploded with atomized mist, startlingly cool to the touch and tantalizingly citrusy to the nose. The patented nozzles whooshed up and down three times, paused while I turned 180 degrees, and whooshed again.

Stunned, soggy as a waterbug, eyes, ears, and nose filled with gaseous fumigant, I could only think of the old commercial for Raid Roach killer ("Raid kills bugs dead.")

Is this really necessary? Silly reader. Only if you want to eliminate the heartbreak of streaking from messy creams and gels, the time-consuming hassle of lying in the sun for days, and the health risk of non-visible-spectrum light waves to skin from ultraviolet rays, manmade or natural.

Besides, the nozzles' superfine mist, the metal-coated plate that you stand on helps decharge the air molecules around you, insuring even distribution. The mixture includes aloe vera, dihydroxyacetone (a colorless sugar known as DHA), and a cosmetic bronzer with the same FDA-approved ingredients as over-the-counter sunless tanning preparations.

Really, the only thing new, says Wilma Bergfeld, a dermatologist and head of clinical research at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, is "the delivery system." All chemical tanning products are "basically stains ... a cosmetic coloring," and the new delivery system is a "boutique" concept for clientele with disposable income.

She says the products are not considered dangerous, but offers two warnings. A skin stain does not offer any sort of protection from the harmful rays of the sun, so don't think dark skin will prevent you from burning. And, she cautions, "you could look like a [fashion] victim" if you have any uneven pigmentation – because the staining just highlights those and the skin looks spotted.

Underarm stains aside, it worked

But did it work for me? Yes, even for a first-time user who didn't do all that well in keeping the tanning mist off my palms and fingernails (I had some irregular shaped, brownish staining on my hands and underarms). Perhaps more important were the testimonies I was hearing.

"This is the best solution for someone who wants to spend virtually no time getting a safe, good-looking tan," said a woman in the lobby, who uses Mystic Tan before important social events, cruises, and backyard parties. Others, standing in lines at outlets around town, are babbling similar hyperbole, and shop personnel claim they've never introduced such a popular new innovation.

As for me, the pursuit of pulchritude is not, personally, my bag. Ask anyone who knows me. I'm way too deep for that. Besides, I don't have time for such trivialities. My entire weekend is booked ... lawn bowling with George Hamilton.

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