But the days of pale and ale may soon be over for me. There's now a tanning solution that's the talk of Internet pop-up ads and AM radio commercials. It's for those who have medical conditions and other sound reasons that prevent them from tanning. And best of all, it's endorsed by one of our nation's most hallowed institutions the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Seriously. It's called Mystic Tan.
Advertised as a "sunless" tanning method, Mystic Tan doesn't emit UV rays like traditional fake-bakes. Instead, it uses a spray-on system that deposits golden brown color temporarily into your skin. I am suspicious. But a brochure boldly promises "a perfectly uniform, natural-looking tan in seconds." I am game.
Mystic Tan is set up in an Atlantic Tanning branch in Short Pump, not exactly the locale that inspires images of tan, taut bodies, beach balls and fruity drinks. Inside the store, employees assure me that the Mystic Tan is safe, quick and effective. They show me a brief video in the lobby to prepare me for my session. Although it's a few notches below the production quality of a Ron Popeil infomercial, it gets the basic info across.
A tanning personal trainer brings me into a small back room. There it is: A blue, plastic structure about the size and shape of a shower. My tanning trainer briefs me, and, before leaving, hands me a shower cap to place over my shaved, bald head. I make sure the room is locked and strip down. Now I'm naked except for the shower cap, and I'm staring in a full-length mirror while the tanning booth primes up for me.
I check the lock again, and take a deep breath.
I rub a special lotion on my hands and feet. This is supposed to keep the tanning solution from leaving "rustlike" marks on my extremities. I imagine myself with "rustlike" marks, and then add a lot more lotion. I step inside the blue booth, half expecting to get beamed aboard a UFO for a full body-cavity probing. On one of the walls, there's a bellybutton-high nozzle, and a big green button beside it. I push the button and assume the position I saw demonstrated in the video.
With my feet shoulder-width apart and arms out from my side, I prepare for the cool blast of tanning solution. Droplets shoot toward me at about 250 mph, and an overwhelming chill grips my body. I feel like I have joined the Polar Bear Club.
The liquid spraying against me consists of three parts: a bronzer, which is the cosmetic dye; DHA (dihydroxyacetone), a molecule that creates the "long-lasting" (three- to four-day) tan effect; and aloe vera, which provides a smooth, soft finish. Whatever. It just feels like an out-of-control shower. The nozzle shoots up and down my body, and as the mist fills the booth, I realize I missed the part of the video telling you to hold your breath to avoid getting tan lungs.
Fourteen seconds into the session, an electronic horn blares, signaling me to turn around so the Mystic Tan could paint err tan my back, too. And then it's over in no more than a minute. I quickly step out, towel off the excess solution as instructed and peer into the mirror. Nothing. I'm told it will take three to four hours for the tan to set in, after which I can shower. I'm still skeptical.
The next morning I get out of bed, look into the mirror, and WHOA! I'm tan. If I were served in a paper sleeve, I could pass for a McDonald's hash brown. A full inspection reveals I am tan. everywhere. I look closely at my hands and feet and see the dreaded rust marks. But not too bad. Other than that, the only side effect is that I smell like maple syrup for the next few days.
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