Confessions of a Spray-Tan Artist
Dealing with celeb tantrums, supermodel cellulite, and horn-dog men — it's all in a day's work for this chick. Brace yourself as she spills her candid, colorful stories. As told to J. Courtney Sullivan.
I never thought I'd make a living staring at nearly naked actresses, models, and even men. But I decided to open a spray-tanning salon in New York City to give people that tanned look without frying their skin.
Unlike tanning booths, which offer some degree of anonymity, there's no room for modesty here. Everything's done by hand, so I have to be all up in people's business. Not surprisingly, I've seen and heard things that would make even a bronzed chick's cheeks turn red — celebrity tantrums, overexcited men, and skinny stars with bad cases of cellulite. But nothing fazes me.
Grin and Bare It
Since I see clients when they're most vulnerable (in a paper thong and under bright lights with all their wobbly bits showing), I'm as much a shrink as a spray tanner. I can't tell you how often I have to reassure slim girls that, no, their ass isn't the size of Texas.
Women love to know how they stack up: "Do I have more cellulite than every one else? Am I hairier than the average chick?" Sometimes, the degree of self-loathing saddens me. I have some clients who keep their pants on and only get their upper bodies sprayed because they can't bear to show their legs. I tell them that it's foolish to compare yourself to an ideal that doesn't exist. One of my clients is a thin, young model whose body needs as much concealing as the average client. Photos are airbrushed!
Most women calm down once they realize how much I'll be able to help them. I can put a tiny triangle above the breasts to create cleavage, shade a bit of darkness under the butt for extra lift, or conceal cellulite by using a slightly warmer color on the backs of the thighs. It's all about subtlety. But the requests have gotten more specific and outlandish. They want amazing definition sprayed onto their muffin tops. I attempt to persuade them to be more realistic. My average client is a normal, pear-shaped woman with thighs and a butt. If I were to paint a six-pack on her, it would look ridiculous! But that doesn't stop them from asking, and ultimately, I have to try to give them what they want.
Less Is More
As sunless tanning grows in popularity, I see more fake-tanorexics. They've lost their grasp on what looks natural. To them, the darker the better. Let me tell you, it's scary. No matter what your skin tone, you should never go more than two shades deeper. A spray tan only lasts about five days, and if you're too dark, you'll look like you have dirty, marbled skin when the color starts to fade. But some clients just don't care.
The irony is that some women who go overboard are so put-together in every other way — their highlights are flawless, their makeup is wonderfully applied. All control vanishes when they're staring down the barrel of a spray-tanning gun. I think most of it stems from the fact that a tan makes you look instantly slimmer.
Stars fall victim to this because they're under so much pressure to be skinny. So the thought process is The darker I go, the thinner I look. That's why so many celebs look like Oompa Loompas. That orange look comes from too many applications.
What's more, hands and feet end up looking freakish. The chemicals settle into the grooves of the skin and leave horrendous dark marks. But a lot of actresses and TV anchors are obsessed with their hands and insist that they look as tanned as the rest of their body. With out fail, I'll get a call the next day from their makeup artist saying, "You've got to help us!" I've used cream bleach to lighten some spots, but you have to be cautious. I used too much once and left a big white patch on a TV anchor's hand. Needless to say, she wasn't happy.
Down and Dirty
Though we've worked out a lot of kinks, spray tanning still comes with some sticky consequences. Anyone (and anything) you rub against for eight hours will get streaked with tanner. Sometimes my clients go home to show off their tans to their boyfriends, and you know how one thing leads to another. Eventually they're getting intimate, and when he comes up for air, his face and cheeks have blotches on them.
Many women wonder whether the formula will wind up in their private parts, and that would never happen with a good tanner. If it does, the dye won't do you physical harm. But you'll know it's happened because it'll smell like something died down there.
If you're looking at a celebrity, you're looking at a spray tan. In the last month, we've worked on several movie actresses and pop stars. So a big chunk of my business is house and hotel calls. Their publicists insist that I rush right over and then they make me wait for hours. One TV actress had me ushered to her hotel in the middle of the night — and then argued with her boyfriend over the phone for an hour.
But in my experience, the worst celebs are the ones teetering on the first step of fame. One star of a reality dating show came with a posse of 10 and wanted everything for free. When she was asked to wait, she screamed, "Do you know who I am?"
Men make up about 30 percent of my clientele. Most of them are straight guys who got dragged along for their girlfriend's appointment and start coming back for their own work. They always want to go superlight, so no one (especially women) will be able to tell. It's a shame they have no sense of subtlety in other areas. Something about being naked in front of a woman on her knees makes most men act like stupid frat boys.
Recently, I had a filthy-rich investment banker come in with his pregnant wife. While I was spraying him (as she waited outside), he popped a boner. The worst part was that he wasn't the least bit embarrassed. He said, "Sorry, it's not you; it's your breasts that are turning me on." It's times like these when I think, What the hell am I doing this for? But then I remind myself: I've got an amazing business that makes women's butts look smaller. How many people can say that?
How to Get a "Natural" Spray Tan
Ready to go for the glow? Heed our insider's tips.
SEEK OUT A SPECIALIST. Many nail salons offer spray tans, but stick to a place that's got an extensive sunless-tanning menu.
EXFOLIATE — GENTLY. So many women scrub until their skin turns red. Exfoliate pre-tan only if you're really dry.
SKIP DEODORANTS AND PERFUMES. They can prevent the tanner from penetrating and might stain the skin.
SHAVE BEFOREHAND. Defuzzing after will shorten the tan's life span by two days.
WEAR LOOSE CLOTHES. Anything tight, like denim, will suck the tanner right off.
STAY DRY. Once you're sprayed, wait eight hours before you hit the shower.
SOCK IT. Wear socks on your hands while sleeping the first night. This prevents handprints on random body parts.
SOAK IT OFF. When the tan starts to fade, take a bath. Then buff yourself with a towel. The flakes will fall off.
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