Snooki and The Situation may have brought tanning to the forefront of the cultural conversation in recent months, but the predilection for baking oneself to a burnt sienna is hardly limited to the Jersey Shore gang.
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In Sex and the City 2, both Carrie and Big shed New York’s indigenous Goth pallor—nary a square-inch of Chris Noth’s chest is untinted, despite the fact that he supposedly works the long hours of a finance guy. The Twilight look aside, tanorexia, it seems, has replaced the Pale Princess aesthetic of stars like Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Madonna. (In the Nicole Holofcener movie Please Give, Amanda Peet’s character’s bitchy self-absorption is seen as directly proportionate to her melatonin levels.)
Meanwhile, supporters of the perennially-crispy Florida governor Charlie Crist are already stressing out about how he will survive in unsunny Washington should he be elected to the Senate, and have gone ahead and scoped out a tanning salon conveniently located near the Hill. And Sarah Palin’s in-house tanning bed is by now a very bad joke.
The world’s decision to go bronze is presumably what prompted a new tax on tanning salons, which goes into effect on July 1. Expected to generate $2.7 billion over 10 years, the “sin” tax (fake tanning is as bad for you as smoking cigarettes, is the logic) was tacked on to Obama’s health care bill at the last minute, and has set off a fierce debate. Health experts cry: Skin cancer! Melanoma! Pre-mature aging! Tanning salon owners (and Republicans like Senator John McCain) counter with: Vitamin D! Improved stress levels!
Lorit Simon says of Lindsay Lohan: “She’s a trooper. We can spray her with anything.”
Tanning salons are also crying for help, considering that they’ve already been hit by the recession.
“Whenever you’re worried about your job or the economy, and putting food on the table, and you’re looking to save money and make cuts, unfortunately something like this is an early target,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. Because most of the roughly 20,000 salons in the U.S. are small, private businesses, Overstreet did not have exact numbers for how badly the industry has been hurt. But according to the NPD Group, which does market research, sales of self-tanning and after-tanning products were down 4% in 2009 from $69 million in 2008.
Overstreet feels that the government’s estimated income off the tax is wildly optimistic and says there simply aren’t enough business operators to generate that kind of revenue.
But there’s another reason that $2.7 billion seems high: while skin à l’orange is undoubtedly in vogue, in recent years there’s been a shift toward sunless tanning sprays and lotions—which will not be taxed— to the point that many people, celebs in particular, have sworn off tanning beds, fearing health risks. (Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer division of the World Health Organization, issued a report stating that tanning beds caused cancer in humans, classifying them along with tobacco use, chimney sweeping and mustard gas.) With the new tax, more followers are likely; Snooki herself has already announced her conversion.
“I don’t know anyone who goes to a tanning bed,” said Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure. “If they do, they are lying about it. It’s something they’d be ashamed of.”
(With the exception of the shameless, of course, such as Palin, Simon Cowell, and Britney Spears, who all proudly have tanning beds in their homes, or, in the case of Spears, on her tour bus.)
Lorit Simon, a celebrity tan “specialist” who co-created Lindsay Lohan’s Sevin Nyne self-tanning spray, has a similar reaction to tanning beds.
“Oh, no! We don’t have those,” she said with evident disgust. “We only do spray tans. I swear, ‘Cherish your skin,’ that’s what’s on the bottle.”
Not that spray tanning is entirely without risks. Although DHA, the active ingredient in spray solutions, has been FDA approved for limited external use, many spray-tinting formulas include lead, arsenic and mercury, which are not safe to inhale.
Still, spraying is considered the less hazardous method, and has become increasingly convenient in recent years. Nothing like the “torture,” as Wells described it, of the old process that took a full hour. “They would do one square-inch of skin at a time,” she said. “It was just like, who needs to be looked at that closely, for that long, when you’re naked?”
A little less than a decade ago, there was the introduction of Mystic Tan booths, which made a faux tan a 15-minute, dancercise away—the preferred method of obtaining a non-streaky glaze from the spray mists.
Now, it’s all about “the specialist with the gun,” Wells said, describing airbrush artistes like Susie Hatton at Chocolate Sun in Santa Monica, and Anna Stankiewicz at Spa Chakra in New York, who, according to New York Magazine, “specializes in absolute harmony between natural skin tones and the vitamin-enriched bronzing blasts of all-natural sunless-tan formula.”
It’s this supposed harmony, and lack of UV rays, that have celebs not only lining up, but actually copping to a spray tan.
“Before people wanted it to be natural, now people are not afraid to admit, ‘I spray tan!’” said Simon.
None more so than Lohan, of whom Simon says, “She’s a trooper. We can spray her with anything.”
Overstreet, for one, argues that even with the popularity of spray tanning, beds are not going out of business. “Practically all of the spray tanning services are provided through the same businesses that provide beds—they complement each other. Some people do a combination, some do only one, so the folks that provide spray tans are part of our organization.”
And even Simon admits that spray tanning “takes a little bit of skill. There’s a learning curve to get the best tan.”
Tips include washing your hands when you’re done, to prevent orange palms; going light on the feet, because “the feet always collect more color”; and “sticking out your butt—otherwise you’ll have little smiley faces.”
Wells said: “You still have a rancid smell. And if you go to sleep soon after the treatment, it looks like a crime scene on your sheets. And when you get up, you still turn a little orange.
“But,” she continued, “a little orange is still preferable to being paper white.”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.