Even since fashion icon Coco Chanel returned from her French Riviera vacation sporting a tan, we have been obsessed with obtaining that perfect golden glow. For many years, that meant baking in the sun or under sunlamps. Just over 30 years ago, DHA (dihydroxy acetone) entered the scene in the form of rub-on creams with the infamous orange glow of a ripe pumpkin. Well, a lot has changed, and the days of fake-looking, streaky tans are behind us. Enter the next generation—professional airbrush tanning services.

Airbrush tanning takes advantage of DHA, which is a colorless sugar compound (derived from sugar cane or sugar beets) that reacts with dead skin cells to create that warm glow of a summer tan. Because the DHA reacts with dead skin cells and fades as they are sloughed off, the skin should be exfoliated before application. Bronzers may be added to aid the technician during spraying and give some immediate result while the sunless tan develops over the next six to eight hours. Clients are advised to wear dark-colored, loose clothing and sandals, and avoid perspiring or showering for six to eight hours for best results. Most experts agree that the tan will last for five to seven days depending on the client. Moisturizers should be used on a daily basis to maintain the tan.

Clients love the airbrush method because, in skilled hands, it looks almost perfect and lets them avoid harmful UV rays People who take photosensitizing medications such as birth control pills, antibiotics, antidepressants, and diuretics can safely get the tanned look of a week-long vacation, without the risk of sunburn It is important to note that a sunless tan offers no SPI or protection against the effects of UV rays. Precautions should still be taken when out in the sun

Who Can Do It?

For the time being, most states’ cosmetology boards don’t regulate airbrush tanning But as this service gains popularity, states are scrambling to keep up. Oregon requires licensing in esthetics. Florida and Kansas have decided it’s out of the scope of their regulation. Changes in licensing happen quickly, so check with your state board for up-to-date information. And, as always, comply with your locality by having the proper business license. Your city officials should be able to tell you if a license is required.

Your first thought might be, just how much space do I need? “You obviously don’t want to be performing spray-on tans in a small closet,” says Paul Jaeger, president of Scentual Sun Tanning Systems. “The minimum room size would be 5¢×7¢, so you have room to work around the client. An 8¢×10¢ room would be even better. And it’s nice to have seating for the client.”

Kim Carruso, owner of Central Sun of New Jersey, is quick to say, “My entire location is just 300 square feet!” Incidentally, Carruso has just opened a second location inside a day spa.

If you have a treatment room that doesn’t get much traffic, you could designate it for dual use, optimizing the space. Clients maybe tanning in something close to their birthday suit, so discretion and privacy, as well as a lock on the door, are very important. Disposable undergarments are also available from beauty supply stores and can be provided for clients by the salon to eliminate the problem of stained clothing.

So, what do most clients wear when getting that airbrush tan? Laura Pany of Oasis Tan & Spa in Annapolis, Md., says, “It depends on the comfort level of the client. Frequently it is a thong, boxers, or briefs.” Carruso’s clients tend to tan in the nude.

Getting Started

Manual airbrush systems consist of a compressor or turbine unit connected to a hose and airbrush or sprayer. A turbine unit tends to be faster Systems start out at $140 for the basics, and run upwards of $5,000 for complete systems including ventilation. Start researching equipment and you will find that there are quite a few choices out there. So, what is the difference and how do you choose?

You will have to look at three components. system, support, and pricing. Some companies sell the tanning solution only, some the system and a video, and a few offer comprehensive training. Choose the system that fits your salon’s needs based on your situation, comfort, experience level, and budget.

“Contact the company and ask lots of questions,” advises Melodie Schneider, owner of A Shade Beyond in Highlands Ranch, Colo. “You can tell from the first call if they have good customer support. Make sure they are willing to train you, because it is part of what you are paying for when you buy a system.”

Paasche Airbrush Co. offers a video, equipment, and tanning solution. CEO Brian Pettersen maintains that most people could use the equipment with no training.

Scentual Sun offers two full days of hands-on training with each system and 24/7 technical support. They also provide a free e-book on their website. SunFX also offers comprehensive training with its system. Jan Tana Inc. provides free training with both the com­pressor and HVLP systems.

Systems vary in their ability to provide a fast application. This determines the time requirement for each tanning appointment. Potential salon volume should be carefully examined to make sure the unit will not become obsolete as appointment times fill. A quick application will certainly mean a larger initial investment, but don’t let that deter you. Faster application can also mean a higher price point on the salon menu in today’s drive-thru, convenience-focused culture.

“We charge $45 for the basic service and schedule approximately 30 minutes. “The actual spray time is 10-12 minutes, and then the client dries for 10 minutes,” says Parry, who has been offering airbrush tans for the last 14 months and has found increased interest in other services such as sugar scrubs and body buffing as a result.

Jan Tana, owner of Jan Tana Inc., adds, “Once your customers walk in the door to tan, you may have a new client for nail services.”

Another difference in systems is the inclusion of ventilation equipment. “Ventilation is a must-have,” says Jaeger. “Without ventilation, you would quickly have a mess in the salon.”

The FDA approved the use of DHA in topical cosmetics over 30 years ago. Because of concerns over internal exposure, they have advised that precautions be taken when spraying, such as goggles for the eyes, nose plugs, ear plugs, and lip balm.

All tanning solutions are not equal. Airbrush tanning solutions are available in many strengths and come in clear or tinted with bronzer. A wide array of additives and boosters are available to customize individual applications. Most experts agree that the level of DHA should be at least 8% (some range as high as 18%). A trained airbrush expert can give the client the perfect level of tanning for her original skin tone.

Also consider the retail products made available. Scentual Sun Tanning offers the ability to customize the scent of the tan and all after-care products. SunFX offers tan extenders and an at- home touch-up product Add retail revenues to salon service revenue and you have a win/win situation.

In general, the fees charged by salons and spas for manual airbrush tanning start out at about $35 and go up to $200. The fee is largely based on what the market can bear in your area and your level of expertise.

Learning How

Application requires practice, just like any other salon service. The more you practice, the better you will get. At first, you might be doing quite a few free tans for both experience and marketing exposure. More training is available on the web for those who are still a bit uneasy. UniversalQass.com offers an online airbrush tanning program that claims to teach you “everything you need to know,” requiring only that you have a high school education. The American Tanning Institute and the National Tanning Training Institute (NTTI) both have online programs covering the sunless process, DHA, application, and safety.

“Get certified by an organization such as NTTI,” advises Parry. “Education is the difference between average and great results. Practice your skills until you are comfortable and create a safe environment with ventilation, non- slip rubber mats for the floor, and the availability of earplugs, eyewear, etc.”

In addition to a non-slip surface to stand on, make sure you are insured for accidents and frivolous lawsuits involving airbrush tanning. Insurance companies such as Insurtec Inc. (www.insurtecinc.com) specialize in the service. According to their website, financial risks include allergic reactions, privacy issues, and working around the eyes. General business insurance policies may not be enough. Talk to your insurance agent to find out how much coverage you need.

Now that we have a place to perform the service, equipment, and ventilation, the insurance premiums are paid, retail is stocked, and we are comfortable with our skill level, how will we fill our appointment book?

Kevin Somers from SunFX suggests marketing with tanning parties, where you can tan groups one after the other. Scentual Sun Tanning’s Jaeger recommends partnering with other businesses such as travel agents. “We include a customized marketing CD with each system The CD has all of the forms needed,” he notes.

Schneider works with bridal parties and makes sure the local dermatologist has a steady supply of her business cards, and Jan Tana makes her services available at bodybuilding events.

Of course, when clients start to see you and other salon staff sporting that fabulous tan, they will become believers. Wearing sunless products is the perfect conversation starter It will give you the edge in promoting your services.

Sixty-nine percent of men and 61% of women say people look better with a tan, according to a 2005 survey done by the American Academy of Dermatology. In the same survey they also found that as household income rose, so did the number of respondents who agreed with that statement.

That said, our clients are looking for ways to get that back-from-the-islands tan. They love the healthy glow, but are starting to worry about wrinkles and sun damage. You have the answer. A natural looking airbrushed, sunless tan.

“Airbrush tanning has opened up a whole new market for us. It has been one of the least expensive services to implement and has become one of the most profitable to offer,” says Parry.

Nothing But the Booth

Automated airbrush tanning booths are available from a number of manufacturers including Mystic Tan and St Tropez Tanning Clients simply step into the private, self-contained booth wearing a plastic shower cap and barrier cream to protect areas that they don’t wish to be tanned, such as lips, fingernails, and palms The mist is emitted and the client makes a series of gyrations to get even coverage, they step out and towel off before getting dressed. Precautions should still be taken to avoid breathing the solution Clients are still advised to exfoliate prior to the tanning experience.

While the booths offer a quick alternative, they don’t yet replace the level of customization that a skilled professional can offer, such as shading at the hairline, sculpting with a darker shade to enhance definition of muscles, or applying less product on knees and ankles. The advantage is that you won’t have to hire additional personnel to operate the unit and clients can get a quick tan

You can expect to spend $7,000 or more for an automated spray tanning booth and should have access to an electrical supply and plumbing. The average cost for a tanning session is $25 and takes just a few minutes.

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