Did I Mention I’m Airbrushed, and It’s Customized?

As a prerequisite for this post, we must acknowledge that a tan has psychological benefits, particularly for women.

How So?

imageResearch reveals that both being tan and the tanning experience itself can immediately boost our psychological well-being – our mood, self-esteem, and self-confidence. When tan, we may perceive ourselves as more attractive – thinner and sexier. A quality tan can mask skin and contour imperfections by evening out skin tone and minimizing the appearance of stretch marks, cellulite, blemishes, and varicose veins. But at what costs do we reap these benefits? There are intangible costs – the health of our skin – and tangible costs – the financial impact.

In a prior post, I discussed UV tanning beds and booths and the risks they pose. I have also posted about over-the-counter self-tanners. The natural progression on my self-tanning journey was a professional spray tan. I tried both variations: a machine-operated Mystic tan and a custom airbrush tan applied by a tanning technician. For a refresher on how sunless tanners work, take a quick look at this post. In short, artificial tanning is accomplished by applying dihydroxyacetone, or DHA to the skin. DHA is a colorless sugar that interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells that rest on the epidermis (the top layer of skin), which subsequently augments the skin’s color.

Mystic Tanning

Across the board, Mystic spray stand-up tanning booths are less expensive than a custom airbrush spray tan, but the price difference is nominal. Mystic machine technicians suggest that they can vary color levels, but this is probably not accurate given my understanding of how the machines, and DHA, work. Because skin tones vary among us, as well as our amino acid activity, a machine with a pre-programmed color scheme – and thus DHA concentration – can’t achieve the level of customization that a person holding an airbrush canister can. For instance, a #4 level spray by a Mystic machine will not have the same results on me (fair complected) and “the sexiest woman alive in 2015,” Emilia Clarke (slightly darker complected). Individuals require individualized color control.

There is also the issue of unavoidably inhaling the spray while in the booth, which some emerging studies suggest could be harmful. Further, there is no way for the tanner to guage whether color is distributing evenly, which commonly causes angst. But since there’s also no way to effectively control for or correct imprecise application, one may be well-advised to stay out of the booth altogether.

* Please note that I have omitted the location for my Mystic spray tan because my experience was undesirable.

My Experience

The Mystic machine left me with a streaky, uneven tan, which I didn’t discover until I exited the booth. On the same limb, I noticed splotchy color with hints of my untouched pale skin peaking through. It wasn’t a good look, and I was disappointed. I also felt utterly defenseless against inhaling the solution, which left me worriedly thinking, “When is this going to end?” only seconds after my session began. I awkwardly tried to dodge direct sprays to my facial orifices and even attempted to take only shallow breaths in through my nose, which proved to be a futile exercise. My experience seems to be consistent with many other Mystic-ers.

Custom Airbrush Tanning

For the past 20 years, airbrush spray tans have increasingly gained popularity – and rightly so. An experienced airbrush spray tan technician makes all the difference. She’s an artist, making informed decisions about color formulation and technique that suit the client’s needs. This added, personal touch is worth the marginally higher price – a few extra bucks per session. A custom airbrush technician takes a history that considers several factors, such as one’s past spray tan results, skin tone, and desired hue, before formulating the solution.

I’m happy to report that most traditional tanning salons now offer airbrush tans because of their demand. Their popularity continues to grow given their optimal safety profile and effectiveness as compared to UV and Mystic tanning. And if you prefer more natural (or less chemically-enhanced) cosmetics, most airbrush spray tan technicians offer an organic, vegan formula. Bottom line, spray tans are the safest way to bronze one’s skin. Claimed added bonuses of a custom airbrush tan include the following:

  • The color can be customized to achieve that perfect “sun-kissed” hue instantly.
  • The color actually continues to improve throughout the first day.
  • The face can be sprayed (with a few precautions), avoiding the need for a separate facial bronzer.
  • The tan creates facial and body contouring, which brings out one’s natural features, and may even exaggerate them.
  • There are tanning formulas that can be added to the solution that make anti-aging (smoothing the skin) and slimming (minimizing the appearance of cellulite) claims.
  • Any skin color can be enhanced, no matter how pale or dark.
  • Even the palest skin types are responsive and can achieve a natural-looking golden glow.

My Experience

It didn’t take me long to find Tropical Breeze Studio near me in Manhattan Beach after I searched Yelp, Groupon, and Living Social for a recommended deal on custom airbrush spray tanning. With a Living Social voucher, I paid $19 ($29 value) for an organic, full-body airbrush tan. The studio also provides a VIP punch card with a “buy five, get one free” deal.

I had an upcoming wedding in two days. I expressed to owner, Carla, that I wanted to look naturally tan, as though I had carefully sun-bathed for a few days. I figured some bronzing would help to minimize the appearance of scattered bruises and spider veins on my legs and really make my red dress pop. I wanted to enhance the “wow” factor of wearing red without looking unnatural. An obviously artificial tan or too deeply bronzed look can spoil a great party dress.

Carla prepared the solution, a popular organic formulation called Norvell Pro. The specific blend she used for my skin type and tanning goal is called “Venetian.” (Here’s more information on why so many prefer/choose Norvell.) Carla then sprayed every uncovered part of me, including my face. When she sprayed my face, she instructed me to close my eyes and hold my breath. As noted above, inhalation risks remain unknown. Thus, despite following her direction, I still felt some anxiety throughout the entire session. While the tent is well-ventilated, it is still misty. My worry isn’t great enough to forgo spray tanning, or even to avoid direct misting to my face, but I think wearing a small mask over my nose and mouth is a reasonable next step.

Two airbrushing rounds took about 20 minutes, followed by a five-minute drying session with a device much like a luke-warm hair dryer. Carla explained that the extra drying step is not routinely done and helps to minimize run-off onto clothes. And she was right!

At the end, I had exactly the look I was seeking: a beautifully-toned, even, streak-free, and sun-kissed glow. For the next week, in particular the first few days, I received a lot of comments on my “bronzed” skin. My color lasted a full eight days before I noticed any fading, and I was pleased with this life span because Carla had appropriately set my expectations. She explained that I could expect the tan to last up to 10 days if I followed the aforementioned tips and a few added pearls of wisdom, like avoid bathing for at least 12 hours after the spray (I waited 36 hours, by the way).

Surprisingly, unlike my experience with over-the-counter and Mystic self-tanner, the tan dissipated relatively evenly. While getting ready for bed on day eight, I noticed some blotchiness on my inner thighs and hips only. At that point, I still looked lightly sun-kissed, but the tan had run its course. And for the next two days, I exfoliated with a gentle poof while showering to lift remaining product. Until next time, airbrush tan. After all, I have a VIP card to redeem.

Before and After


note my legs’ paleness, bruising, and spider veins and my left profile’s unevenness

Left: Before Right: After

2 days post, and I'm wedding reception ready

2 days post, and I’m wedding reception ready

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Categories: General, Product Reviews


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