- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

CHICAGO - Elizabeth Walsh’s co-workers were perplexed when she showed up at the office with her usually porcelain “Irish skin” suddenly a lovely shade of golden brown.

“It was like I’d been on a three-week vacation,” says the 25-year-old Chicagoan, who hadn’t been in the sun at all — and eventually confessed.

She’s one of a growing number of paler-skinned Americans who are tripping off to get “spray-on” tans at their local salons and spas.

Some do it before hitting the beach or taking vacations in warmer climates so they don’t stand out. Others are corporate executives, looking for any way to spiff up their image in a competitive job market.

And many are getting their faux tans for special occasions. Miss Walsh, for example, got hers before wearing a strapless dress at a recent wedding.

Dan Roth, co-owner of three tanning salons on Chicago’s ritzy North Shore, is among those in the business who have had a slew of teens come in for spray-on tans before their homecoming dances this fall.

The fake tans last about a week and are seen as a year-round — and healthier — alternative to baking in the sun or using tanning beds.

“It’s a phenomenon is what it is,” says Mr. Roth, whose Almost In Florida salons have been offering the service for 18 months.

An annual survey by the Spa Association, a large trade organization, confirms his notion.

So far this year, the survey found that demand for spray-on tans is up 67 percent compared with last year, accounting for nearly $1 million in sales in the United States.

“This relatively bizarre ritual is only going to become less expensive and more widespread in the years to come,” says Melinda Minton, executive director of the association, based in Fort Collins, Colo.

Some salons charge as much as $60 for a spray-on tan. But according to the survey, the average price is now $15 per session and as little as $12 for regular users.

There are about two dozen companies that sell spray-on tanning equipment — including InstaBronze, Scentual Sun and Mystic Tan, the “official tan of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.”

Dermatologists are thrilled.

“If it makes people feel better and keeps them out of the tanning beds, I’m all for it,” says Dr. Suzan Obagi, director of the Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Getting a spray-on tan takes anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, depending on how it’s done.

In some instances, people stand in a booth and hold their breath as the tanning solution is mechanically sprayed on their skin. Often, people wear paper hair covers and blocking lotion on areas they don’t want tanned, such as fingernails and feet.

At other salons, a technician with an apparatus that looks something like an airbrush applies the tanning solution.

The active ingredient in most spray-ons is dihydroxyacetone, a sugar that reacts with the outer skin cells and dyes them.

“It is entirely harmless,” says Dr. James Spencer, vice chairman of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

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