Streaks, Blobs And The Perfect Tan

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 18, 2005
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It all started with wanting to look a little tan for my cousin’s Texas wedding. When you’re from Hawaii, there’s a tan expectation. I think the cousins (and I have dozens of them) visualize me perpetually lolling in a beach chair, mai tai in hand, soaking up tropical rays.

I hated to admit I haven’t tanned since 1986, when a Kailua dermatologist told me my skin had “pooped out.” FYI, Hawaii’s sun didn’t do the “pooping,” but rather my upbringing in Texas, where stifling hot summers required extensive swimming pool time. Not only were those the pre-sunscreen days, but a time when slathering on a mixture of Baby Oil and Iodine was the hot ticket to a dark, “healthy” tan. How could we imagine that 30 years later, our skin would be a mess of brown spots, dry patches, skin cancers, and, in the worst case, fatal melanoma? It’s simply counter-intuitive to fear the sun since it feels sooo good.

Yet, according to medical experts, most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by 18 years of age, and skin cancer is very slow to develop. The sunburn you get this week may take 20 or more years to become skin cancer. Message: Keep your children sun-protected.

So there I was in Austin without skin cancer, but also without the expected tan. Then my Austin cousin Carol casually mentioned at a pre-wedding gathering that the next day she had an appointment to get a tan “sprayed on” at a place called Mystic Tan. Suddenly there were seven of us begging to go with her.

Now for years I’ve used selftanning creams — in fact, just about every brand with very mixed results. Even with my most careful application, I’ve walked out the door with a large brown streak on my calf or a blob on my arm, which takes days to fade. Then, when the “dye” does begin to wear off, the skin looks oddly splotchy. And they all have a strange, lingering odor.

But on that day in Texas, all seven of us crazy cousins (one male included) bombed in on this rather ritzy tanning salon ready for our spray bronzing. Even though Carol, a veteran tan meister, briefed us on what to do in the misting “shower,” none of us got all the instructions quite right. One by one, we were called and each went down a long hall to stall number 11, 12 or 13. I went into booth 13, which might’ve been why I had a bit of bad luck with my tan.

We had to go in, undress (it was private), put on a shower cap, making sure to expose all the face or risk an unsightly tan line, put some protective cream on our fingernails, toenails, and inside hands, and don goggles. I was a little nervous that I’d forget a step. And sure enough, no sooner had I stepped into the “shower” and pressed the green “on” button that I realized I’d forgotten the goggles. Fearing blindness or at least brown eyeballs, I tried to make a run for them before the spraying began. Too late. The spray came on just as I was out the door.

My mind flashed on the “Friends” episode where Ross tried this and kept tanning only on one side, so I dashed back into the booth without the goggles, squeezing my eyes so tightly that I forgot one very important rule: open hands wide.

The family all gathered in the lobby of the salon, sizing up each other’s results, though Carol warned us that the color would deepen by the next day — the day of the wedding.

Well, she was right. We all turned very dark … and more. Two cousins had visible streaks down a leg, one had a very dark circular blob on one elbow, two had slight brown circles beneath the nostrils, two had unnaturally tan feet, and I had a white triangular web between my thumbs and forefingers. We concluded the “mystical” part of Mystic Tan was where the mist was going to hit.

The bad news for the overly tanned: The nuptials were outdoors and in daylight. The good news: Everyone was focused on the bride and groom.

The moral to this story is that in spite of my instructionchallenged family, if you want a “healthy” tan, a fake one is the best kind. Hawaii has airbrush tanning places as well as misting booth salons, too (check the Yellow Pages), and if you follow the rules, you’ll get a good result. The cost is around $25 per spray and lasts five to seven days.

There’s really nothing mystical about good skin health. A drip or blob here and there is far preferable to pre-mature aging or, worse yet, skin cancer.

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