- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Bush twins do it. So do the Redskinettes. Lobbyists, lawyers, pundits and prom queens. It’s the only way to glow.

Faux bronzing has grown into a $5 billion industry in America and includes tanning beds; spray tanning booths, such as Mystic Tan; and lotions, creams, gels and drugstore moisturizers with built in self-tanners.

“Number one, it makes you look good,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association in Washington. “Number two, it makes you feel good.”

Fans who overdue it, such as bronze-hued presidential candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election campaign, are known as “tanorexics.”

But that does not stop people from flocking to the tanning booth.

The booths operate like a power airbrush with nozzles spraying a fine mist of solution over the naked body. The result is a torso that appears to have just returned from two weeks on the beach.

“Last year, Mystic Tan just took off,” Mr. Overstreet said. “It was wildly popular.”

The Dallas-based company boasts 3,800 booths in 12 countries.

“It’s a social phenomenon,” said Troy Cooper, founder of Mystic Tan. “A lot of people have become ‘event tanners.’ Doing it for a special event.”

There are dozens of tanning salons in Washington, with new ones popping up every day.

“Mystic Tan is the hottest and newest. We’ve had bodybuilders and wrestlers, Playboy centerfolds,” said Scott Shortnacy, who owns eight Washington-area Solar Planet salons, which feature tanning beds and Mystic Tan.

Seventy percent of indoor tanners are women between 20 and 35, Mr. Overstreet said. Tanning sessions are not cheap, with some costing $25 per session, and requiring many applications. The solution is supercharged with static electricity, and the technology is the same as that used for spray painting cars.

“The units themselves cost $30,000, and the ingredients are expensive,” Mr. Shortnacy said.

But for 28-year-old Gretchen Goldberg, it’s worth it.

“I’m getting married on Saturday,” she said after a recent tanning session at Solar Planet. “For me, I think I look better. Rather than being the color of a white wall.”

She said she tans before vacations and “big events.”

Others prefer to turn to the drugstore for their tan.

When Jergens introduced its Natural Glow daily moisturizer in March 2005, the product was hailed as a revolution in skin care treatment. The lotion combines skin tint dihydroxyacetone with an organic compound that darkens skin gradually. It doesn’t streak or smear. And unlike the old self-bronzers, it doesn’t turn the skin into a bold shade of pumpkin.

With more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed last year, it’s no wonder people are resorting to tans-in-a-tube.

Indoor tanning was invented by the Europeans. Seeking a cure for rickets last century, a doctor figured out a way to harness ultraviolet light into a “sun lamp.” The secondary effects turned the skin brown.

But it wasn’t until the 1920s that tans became fashionable. Some credit French designer Coco Chanel who stepped off a yacht in Cannes, France, her face a glowing bronze. Up to that time, women avoided the sun and cherished ivory complexions.

Then came the 1950s. Itsy-bitsy bikinis were the rage, and America’s love affair with tanning began. During the 1980s, tanning beds and salons began to open. But it wasn’t until recently that spray-on tanning booths became the rage.

Since its inception in 1999, Mystic Tan has logged 15 million tanning sessions. And frequent tanners in a rush to display their glow often leave behind personal items, such as the female FBI agent who forgot her gun and the Bush twin who left a ring that belonged to grandmother Barbara Bush. (The Secret Service came and got it.)

Greek shipping magnate “Aristotle Onassis was asked once to name the ten top things people do to remain successful,” Mr. Shortnacy said. “‘Maintain a tan all year round. The reason why? People think you go to exotic places.’”

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