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By Sherri Richards, Published January 19 2003

'Mist' opportunity: Airbrush tanning provides safe way to 'go with the glow'

Sun worshipers of the past are seeing the effects today -- wrinkles, age spots and an increased risk of skin cancer.

While the dangers of baking in the sun's rays are well-documented, many men and women still long for that golden brown glow that is perceived as healthy and attractive.

Enter self-tanning lotions, which are often chastised for their streaky, smelly application and orangey results.

But now, a new way to tan has hit the market, brushing away pale skin with a seemingly magic wand.

Jill Burke, co-owner of Hair Success with her sister, Jodi Dahl, says she and Dahl found out about airbrush tanning through a group of spa owners they meet with in New York.

"We're all about beauty and wellness and it kind of plugged right into what we're doing," Burke says. "It's a great approach. It's a healthy approach."

A clear liquid is applied to the skin using an airbrush, which coats the skin with a fine mist.

Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is the active ingredient that is found in most self-tanners. DHA interacts with the dead surface cells on the skin, darkening them.

DHA has been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, and the American Academy of Dermatology promotes using products with the chemical.

"It's considered to be quite safe. It's especially safe when you think of it as an alternative to tanning because we are quite rigid in our opposition to tanning regularly," says Dr. David Flach, a dermatologist with MeritCare.

In fact, Flach says, DHA, a compound derived from vegetables, is a weak sunscreen.

"We don't consider it adequate, we want people to use a sunscreen that has a higher SPF," Flach says.

Burke says a full-body application takes about 30 minutes to apply and five minutes to dry.

Within six to 10 hours, a tan appears. Tanners can shower, and Burke says the spray doesn't come off on clothing.

Two applications are mandatory to begin. The first layer gives the skin a healthy glow, Burke says. The second layer takes care of any missed spots and gives that week-in-the-tropics look.

No damage, aging

Cassie Skauge, a senior at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, had her first applications recently.

"I was very surprised," Skauge says. "I was really pleased with it."

Skauge has very fair skin, and says she normally burns and then turns white. But the airbrush tanning gave her dark results.

"I don't ever go tanning at the tanning salon and I've tried the lotions, but I've never gotten into them," she says. "I kind of like this because it was so easy."

The tan lasts about seven days, fading as skin cells naturally slough off.

"If you're pretty fair, you're going to get a pretty dark color, but you're not going to get that fakey, orange color," says Stephanie Hauglie, an aesthetician for Hair Success. "There's no damage to the skin, there's no aging."

Burke says people with light blond hair are her most grateful customers. Burke, a blond, has been using it since Hair Success started offering the tanning system in July.

"I love the fact that you get the color so fast," she says. "It tans your face so beautifully."

Burke says Hair Success did lots of business for Christmas parties last month.

"It's really popular in the summer, for brides and people in weddings," Hauglie adds.

In the slower times, Hauglie says she sees a dozen people a week, besides what the other four beauticians see.

Elite Nails and Tan has offered the service since the beginning of November, and is the only place in Grand Forks, N.D., that has it.

"Everybody's been really happy with it and coming back," says Kelly Hughes, an airbrush tanning technician with Elite Nails. "It's like using sunless tanning lotion except it doesn't make you orange and there's no streaks."

Elite Nails and Tan has eight different formulas available, including one that is DHA-free for the small percentage of people who are allergic. Depending on the formula, results last from four days to two weeks.

It costs $40 for two full-body applications at Elite Nails and Tan. For the face, arms and legs, it costs $30, and $25 for just the face and arms.

Hair Success is offering the service for half price until March 1, so the first two full-body applications cost $25, and $17.50 for each additional application. Smaller applications, such as just the face or arms, cost less.

"I think it's pretty great," Hughes says. "It's not like tanning in the beds; you don't have to worry about cancer. It's quicker and safer."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525