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Spray Tans: One Girl's Tragedies and Triumphs

I can recount spray tan experiences that range from horrific to luxurious, and the differences didn’t lie in the quality of spray tan solution or the price of the technician’s applicator.

The most horrific of my experiences occurred during my freshman year of college. A spray tan technician set up in the basement of my all-girl dormitory and offered spray tans during the week leading up to a classy-ish social event. Kudos to her for targeting a population “in need.” My friends and I lined up for a quick bronze.

I previously engaged in the world of spray tanning only by way of automatic booths, so I was not sure what to expect with a living, breathing technician. When it came my turn, I entered the closed room. The air was musty and visible, filled with tanning solution from the previous tans. I squinted through the haze and kinda sorta saw the technician, who told me to strip. “Like, naked?” I whimpered aloud. “Well, yeah. It's for your skin. I mean, you can wear your underwear but it'll ruin them.” I didn’t even know her name. Welcome to college, I guess?  

She fussed with her machine a bit while I stood there, cold, nude, and inhaling the fumes of spray tans past. She proceeded with little direction and insight. “Feet like this," she directed. I mirrored her and she sprayed cold solution. “Ok, turn. No, not that way, the other way.” I obliged, more spray. Finally, “You're done.” “But I’m sticky,” I said. No rock unturned! “Someone’s waiting,” and she nodded at the door. I threw her the cash, jumped back into my garments and dashed. I felt humiliated, completely misunderstood, and generally uncared for. I wondered if the skin tone was worth the existential pain, and never again attended the mass spray tanning sessions held by that technician.

Fast forward to a bridesmaid experience years later, when I revisited getting spray tanned by a technician. I had my reservations, but what was I going to do, stand up there in a line of bronzed beauties, smiling girlishly with my vampirish skin tone? Nah, by this time there was social media. I decided to play sheep, albeit sheepishly. 

I crept into the room with the tanning technician. The room was well ventilated by overspray fans, no airborne solution haze! I could see the whites of the eyes of the woman who would soon see me in my birthday suit. She told me her name and attempted to engage in small talk. I was ready to get the thing over with. “So, uh, get naked now, yes?” I'd graduated from college at this point. Her, “Well, do you want any tanning garments? I have disposable boxer briefs, bikini tops, thongs, bikini bottoms…you name it, really. What do you want covered?” Insert sigh of relief. Boxer briefs and bikini top, thank you very much! She left the room while I changed. What a woman.

I stepped into her mirrored, lit and ventilated spray tan booth and she explained the whole process. She offered some DHA blocking lotion for me to put on my hands and elbows and other places where people usually color unevenly. I accepted because I love lotion. She offered nose filters so I wouldn’t inhale the spray. I declined because ever since a strange pebble experience in childhood, I don’t jump at the opportunity to put things up my nose without good reason. She explained how the overspray from the solution could be harmful to my nose and nasal passage. I rethought and accepted. She showed me how to put on a spray tanning cap so my hair would stay out of her way and wouldn’t become strangely tinted. Then she explained each potion she would spray.

“First, I’m going to give you the once-over with a pH balancing spray. That will prepare your skin for the tanning solution. It should help it go on smoother. Then comes the tanning solution. I chose one that will look natural with your skin. Last, I’ll give you a post-spray to moisturize. That will keep your skin healthy, plus your tan will look significantly better for longer. I’ll top it off by using my spray tan applicator to shoot warm air over your body so that you won’t walk away cold and wet.”

I felt understood, in control, and fully informed. I walked away with a beautiful tan and absolutely no regrets. I thanked the gods of spray tanning for giving this technician the tools to make our time together a perfectly comfortable experience. I smiled for the Instagram all night long. 

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