Three Perspectives: AFM Tries Sunless Tanning

By AFM Staff – July 1, 2013

Austin Fit Magazine took the opportunity to try three sunless tanning options in the Austin area. We had the fortune to come at the experience from three different perspectives: the experienced sunless tanner, a reluctant guy's outlook, and the first timer who's trying to hide some workout tans. We also encompassed three different experiences. Read these accounts to see what it's like from each perspective.

Palm Beach Tan

Address: multiple locations around Austin
Service: Versa Spa (check website for prices)
Reviewer: Sarah Schneider

I'm a whitey. There; I said it. Admission is the first step, right? Try as I might, I just can't get a tan. I'm not saying I don't get any color–I actually get quite a lot in the form of clusters of concentrated melanin called freckles (or as my mother calls them, "angel kisses"). The invention of the spray tan was a miracle for me, a Godsend that I first took advantage of before senior prom in high school and haven't looked back since. I wouldn't say I'm a regular spray tannee. I'll typically get one if a big event is coming up or if I'm about to go on vacation and show a little extra skin.

I'm more of an automatic booth girl as opposed to the oh-so-intimate personal airbrush treatment, but that's just my personal preference. It wasn't long after I moved to Austin that I found myself needing the bronze glow for an upcoming wedding (yes, I'm in the five-year age bracket where there is a wedding every other weekend). I needed to get my glow on, and a friend recommended Palm Beach Tan.

The staff at Palm Beach Tan was very pleasant and informative about all of their sunless tanning options. They offer two different options for a spray tan: Versa Spa and Mystic Tan. The process for each option is the same: a stand-up booth sprays you four times (front, side, side, and back);this is followed by four dry passes to speed up the drying process and avoid drips. Don't worry, though; if you are a newb to the spray tan scene at Palm Beach, you are shown a short video detailing how the spray tan booth works and what steps to take for that perfect bronzed bod.

So what is the difference between the Versa Spa and the Mystic Tan? The solutions are actually completely different. The Mystic Tan offers a more bronze undertone while the Versa Spa is more neutral. A preference typically depends on the tannee's skin type and how it reacts with the solution. Everyone is different. I've come to find that the Versa Spa looks more natural on me, while others prefer the Mystic. For those who want more options, you might want to try the Mystic Tan. Mystic Tan offers several additives: Hyper Tan, which can prolong your tan and lock in your color; Bronze Boosters for an immediate color; and three scent options if you aren't a fan of that spray tan smell (which disappears after you shower).

So what is a spray tan going to cost you at Palm Beach Tan? Prices range depending on the variety of options offered but typically range from $30-$63 for the Mystic Tan and $30-$45 for the Versa Spa. However, they often run specials – I myself have gotten a few "buy one, get one" deal. Just keep an eye on the website! Also note that, if you're looking to keep a constant color and aren't tanning for just one occasion, there are memberships that offer unlimited spray tans in either booth for only $59.95 per month.

Keep in mind that, as with any sunless tanning option, the preparation prior to your tan can help with getting an even color and the longevity of the results. Palm Beach recommends the following before you get your spray tan:

  • Shower, shave, and exfoliate your skin.
  • Avoid using moisturizers and lotions that are not specially formulated for sunless tanning before your sunless session.
  • Avoid wearing perfumes or make-up that provides a barrier for absorption.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to your session.

In addition, to prolong your tan:

  • Wait at least four hours before bathing, swimming, or coming in contact with water.
  • Avoid engaging in activities that cause you to sweat heavily until your tan has fully developed (at least four hours).
  • Moisturize daily with a post-sunless tanning product (Palm Beach offers a variety of these at their various locations).

Spray tans have come a long way since the days of the orange and unnatural so, if it's something you've been considering, give it a whirl! If you're wary of the results, start with the lightest color option–you can always go darker. And remember: Spray tans are a great alternative to tanning beds, so keep your skin youthful and cancer-free, ya'll!

Sunlounge Spa

Address: 2303 RR 620 South, Suite 190, Lakeway, TX 78734
Service: $40 Single Airbrush Tanning Session
Reviewer: Weston Carls

Being a guy, the last thing I expected to hear from our editor in chief was that she needed a guy to test a product for AFM. “Sign me up,” I said before letting Leah finish her sentence. My mouth dropped when I heard the last two words: “spray tanning.” I’m not going to lie—I was about to change my mind but the Post-it Note put on my desk with Sunlounge Spa’s contact information was the nail in the coffin. I was going to get this molasses goop sprayed all over my naked, cold, and afraid body. I was going to be the talk of Austin as the guy who got publicly spray tanned!

I picked up the Post-it Note, laughed a little under my breath, and gave Steve Dedear, general manager, a call. I scheduled my appointment immediately—within a couple of hours from that call—because, at that moment, I just had to force myself to get it over with; it wouldn’t do me any good to think about this for another day. Steve and I were going to get to know each other really well in about two hours.

After my commute to Lakeway from AFM’s downtown office, I entered Sunlounge Spa’s clean and inviting receptionist area. Steve greeted me; he was wearing a Jack & Adam’s Bicycle Shop shirt, so that link to the Austin fitness scene was at least one step towards familiarity for me, which helped me relax. Steve was very professional and quite knowledgeable about all of the services Sunlounge Spa offers. After a tour of the office space, Steve showed me to my dungeon—I mean, spray tan booth. He talked to me about the process and everything seemed pretty easy. Step one: Get naked….in front of a guy I just met, who I’ll be writing a review about, who will spray me with cold mist, and who I’m afraid will make me look like Tanning Mom. Great! Yep, this sounds like a perfect Thursday afternoon for me. All kidding aside, Steve was professional throughout the entire process.

I got naked and stood in an automatic spray tan booth that’s now used only to contain the over spray. The device used looks like a Wagner Project Sprayer used for painting fences or the outside of your house. I’d actually thought that the spray tan applicator was going to be more of an airbrush; thank goodness it had a wide spray nozzle. The quicker we can get this done, the better.

Starting from my feet, Steve sprayed, working his way up to my face while I intermittently turned clockwise. There’s no normal conversation that can go on during this vulnerable moment. Did I mention the spray was cold? I actually felt bad for Steve, who had to see not only my butt but my goods about eight times as I turned like a child being forced to use the public cold-water shower after a day at the beach. I almost took a “selfie” while this was going on, but I thought it best to leave this to your imagination.

And just like that, it was all over—I survived! The procedure took only five minutes or less of spraying and about five more minutes of letting it dry before I could put on clothes. I never once felt like I was inhaling any chemicals, even when it was applied to my face in one pass. I walked out dry—not dripping anywhere, not really sticky at all, not smelling bad—and looking super sexy.

My preconceptions of spray tanning have all gone out the window. I would get a spray tan considering it was the right situation because I get olive skin pretty easily when I'm in the sun. I do, however, wish spray tans lasted for longer than 7-10 days, but that could be a good thing, too. Really, the only thing I wish I could have gotten added in with the tan was a set of 8-pack abs…but I guess I’ll just have to go the gym more for that.

Organic Glow Tan 

Address: 515 W. 15th Street, Austin, TX 78705
Service: $65 Organic Rapid Tan
Reviewer: Leah Fisher Nyfeler

I was a teenager in the ‘70s, when that ubiquitous Farrah Fawcett poster defined beauty for a lot of us white girls. I wanted her hair and that body but, unfortunately, my gene pool did not bless me with any of those attributes. I could, however, work to get her Golden Girl tan and, boy, did I ever: hours in the sun, slathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil, lemon juice in my hair, baking away—in short, every dermatologist’s worst nightmare (or future meal ticket). I was proud of my tan lines back then.

These days, I slather on the sunscreen and try to undo the sun’s damage. However, you can’t take the nature girl out of me; I LOVE to be outside—even in this Texas heat, and especially when I’m in the water—and I can’t seem to escape tan lines. I have a permanent running shorts tan, even in the winter. The widest part of my legs (um, of my body) always seems to be fish-belly white.

I had often thought about sunless tanning. To be honest, I was a little afraid (of turning orange or breaking out) and too inconvenienced (who does this? Where would I even go?) to pull the trigger. So, when AFM decided to blog about sunless tanning, I jumped at the chance to be a tester. I have to do it for work, right?

I went to Organic Glow Tan, which is housed in a building on the corner of 15th and West along with its sister businesses of Betty Lash (an eyelash bar) and Be Belle (special event makeup services). I used to get my hair cut there when it was Kenneth’s Salon, but I certainly wouldn’t have recognized the interior, which had been completely redone as a modern décor in soothing blues, pinks, and grays, with sliding barn doors, and a restful, spa atmosphere. Trust me when I say I could’ve sat all day in the waiting area with its magazines, Dove bars, and cucumber water—though I might have launched into the chilled white wine if my tan specialist, Stacy Matthews, hadn’t come to get me.

Thanks to the email I’d received as part of my appointment reminder, I’d come devoid of lotions, deodorant, and jewelry, though I did have to take a moment in their powder room to remove my makeup. It’s also recommended that you shave within 24 hours of the process, so my legs and underarms were bare. I’d also been instructed to wear dark, loose clothing and flip-flops to avoid any possible color transfer and rubbing after application. My appointment was for an Organic Rapid Tan ($65) and they’d told me to allow 45 minutes, as it was my first time. Even with all the advance information, I had a jillion questions, and Stacy very patiently answered them; she’s been doing these tans for about four years now and has seen and heard it all.

We spent some time in a separate area of the spa while Stacy went over the basics. The solution would be sprayed on me and I had my choice of exposure: nude, my own underwear/bathing suit, or a disposable strip called a shibu (pronounced “SHE boo”), which they provided. Stacy said about 50 percent of client opt for nothing while only a very few bring their own (with the exception of men, who are required to wear some type of garment—Stacy does their tans, too). So I opted for the shibu (TMI? Well, I figured people would want to know what I thought about the contrast). I asked for Stacy’s judgment as to the coloring; with the Rapid Tan, how long you leave it on (anywhere from two to six hours) determines how dark it gets, and she told me to leave mine for four hours. She also explained that she’d go over my white areas a bit more to even everything out.

I went into a small stall, undressed, applied my shibu, put on the bathrobe provided, and walked across the room to the area where the tan was to be applied. I stood in front of a three-sided screen on a towel; Stacy gave me with a plastic shower cap to cover my hair, though she said the dye would wash right out if I did get any on it. She went over the different positions she’d ask me to assume so I’d know what to do; I gave her the robe; she started spraying (honestly, I didn’t really even notice the apparatus so I can’t say what it looked like, other than it was some kind of small, handheld wand). We talked the whole time. I’m not a particularly modest person and it was like being at the dermatologist while getting an annual once-over. The solution didn’t smell, though you can add scent for an extra cost, and Stacy worked quickly, paying attention to details, such as asking me to make “claws” to get in between my fingers, having me bend different ways, and making sure to appropriately cover my feet. Afterwards, she took a wet washcloth to one area where I’d dripped and then cleaned the palms of my hands, bottoms of my feet, and inside my ears. Done!

The results were immediate; I had a golden, glowing tan. I felt a bit sticky and was glad to have the loose clothing. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get to go home, though I could easily have gone back to the office. In fact, for those who are familiar with the procedure, the Rapid Tan can be done in about 15 minutes—my appointment took 45 minutes because it was my first time and, well, I talk a lot (plus it was a review).

After four hours, I showered, wiping off the extra solution with my hands before using a gentle cleanser. The moisturizer in the tanning solution was nice, and I was glad that Organic Glow uses primarily organic materials though, as Stacy was clear to point out, no self-tanning solution is 100 percent organic due to the chemical DHA—that’s what creates the tan. I had a swim workout and then an outing that evening. I showed up at my book club meeting in a sundress and was almost immediately told, “Summer agrees with you—you look great!” When I revealed that my bronze color was a faux tan, people were impressed and complimented how golden, evenly colored, and smooth my skin looked.

I’d definitely do this again, especially for a special occasion—much like I’d get my makeup and hair done—or for that beginning-of-the-season beach vacation. It smooths out skin tone, so that I actually look better without makeup (in fact, Stacy explained to me that she has several clients who are women of color; they use it to even out their complexions and provide that beautiful, all-over glow). While you can still faintly see my bathing suit top, the dreaded shorts tan is pretty much gone. And I hadn’t realized that I had a sock tan until I saw my feet in my flip flops; now they’re brown.

A postscript: Stacy had warned me that hormonal fluctuations could sometimes affect the adherence of the color. I’m in my 50s, and hormonal fluctuations are par for the course. My color lasted well until Saturday morning when I hit the greenbelt for a very sweaty three-hour run. When I peeled my socks came off, my feet had resumed their pale sock tan; there was an outline from my jog bra; when I wiped my face with my fingers, they were tinted brown. My buddies laughingly told me that you couldn’t tell that anything was coming off and my all-over color is still good. Well, except where I got sunburned from that two-hour swim…perhaps I’m just hopeless when it comes to tan lines. Still and all, I’ll do this again for that special occasion (I’ll just make sure I don’t have a long run or a swim beforehand).

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