There are many tales told from the spray tan tent between me and my clients. Lots of topics come up in the middle of instructing clients when to turn, bend, lunge, etc. What I am often asked is, “How did you get into spray tanning?” It’s a question I love and an answer I enjoy sharing. But the “why” I got into it and “how” I feel about the service I provide has evolved since I opened my spray tan studio two years ago.
The Dance Made Me Do It!
One of the tidbits some of you may know about me is that almost nine years ago I started ballroom dancing. Now, I never really knew how far I would take dance as a hobby, but I was stressed out at a new job at a marketing communications agency, working until at least 7 pm every day and on one particular evening I had enough! There was a dance studio not too far from my office, so I thought I would check out a group ballroom lesson as an observer.
I had taken group dance lessons in the past and the group setting was fine for my purposes at the time, but the agenda of the male students in the group was evidently misaligned with my goals. Many were legitimately there to learn, yet others had different things on their minds. And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you would be correct. Consequently, I abandoned the idea of group lessons for the time. Group lessons are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. You meet a lot of people, learn to dance with partners with different skill levels and you forget all your worries in the process. But I was pretty set on waiting until I could afford private lessons for a more one-on-one experience. Anyway, when the group lesson I was observing finished, the teacher, Alex, came by to introduce himself and he asked me what I thought about the lesson. It was about 9 pm and I replied, “So what are you doing now?” He responded, “Going home.” I said, “Would you like to teach a lesson instead?” And that was the end of that…
"I knew nothing about tanning other than using UV tanning beds a few times in my 20s and all the while I would lay there thinking, 'This has to be bad. This has to bad.'"
Early in my first nine years of dancing, I competed a lot and performed in many, many showcases. I was training in the Latin style of ballroom which includes dances like cha cha, rumba, samba, paso doble and jive. Five very distinct dances but with similar approaches to technique and styling. Part of the “costuming” for Latin style competition is the spray tan. The darker the better. I knew nothing about tanning other than using UV tanning beds a few times in my 20s and all the while I would lay there thinking, “This has to be bad. This has to bad.” I only used the tanning beds a few times until I decided to accept my winter pastiness and long awaited the summer for my bronzing opportunity. Spraying Alive!
At this point, it’s my first go at spray tanning as a ballroom dance competitor. It was on! I had a dress custom made. I had the shoes, the jewelry, the eyelashes (that’s a story) and now, I needed the frosting or the bronzing on the cake. So, I thought I would do a practice run with a “tan-in-a-can.” I will say I had a few concerns, many like the concerns clients express today such as, "Will I be orange and look like an Oompa Loompa?" "Will the tan be uneven?" "Will it smell?" "Will it stain my clothes?"
"Will I be orange and look like an Oompa Loompa?" "Will the tan be uneven?" "Will it smell?" "Will it stain my clothes?"
As for “tan-in-a-can” products, I had no idea what was good, bad or what to look for in an aerosol spray tan. So, I bought a can of something from Ulta at the recommendation of a salesperson. I brought the can home and now I’m thinking about where I am going to get my spray on. Obviously with a spray out of a can, the stuff was going to go all over the place, and I decided to put a full-length mirror in my garage. And yes, in case you were wondering, the overhead door was closed. No peep show that day, fellas. LOL!! As I got going, I realized that I could reach most body parts until I got to my back. I think I pulled something trying to get my upper back sprayed and the rest of my self-spray session was the equivalent of a freak show at the contortionist circus or my own version of Cirque du Soliel.
"I think I pulled something trying to get my upper back and the rest of my self-spray session was the equivalent of a freak show at the contortionist circus or my own version of Cirque du Soliel."
IIt also was February when I was standing in my garage in a tanning cloud, feeling quite chilly between the temperature in the garage and the temperature of the spray. Who knew the spray tanning experience was the equivalent of feeling like a human snow cone? Brrrrr!! Eventually, I moved my spray tan session to the bathtub with the shower curtain closed, as if that worked any better than being in the garage. Spray was all over the shower tile, the bathtub, the floor and the ceiling, maybe even the cat. Home spraying really was not the way to go here.
Where to Glo?
I decided to try out a local spray tan salon in my neighborhood and it was an entirely different experience. There was a tent! Who knew spray tanning required camping gear? Now, it was one thing that I was spraying myself at home alone in my birthday suit, but it didn’t dawn on me that I would be doing the same in front of this young female spray tan artist I had never met before. It wasn't like I was going to the doctor where I am used to being seen in all my glory, but this was a little different and I had to put myself in a different mindset. This was a beauty salon, not the doctor’s office and the outcome, in theory, would be way more satisfying. But I guess that’s all relative. I will say, it took three different sessions to experiment with different mixes to get to the right tone, but eventually we got to the color that would make me look like a pro on the competition floor. Well, I at least felt like one anyway. You should see my first competition video. Good grief! Overall, it was an exhilarating experience and I went on to participate in many other competitions.
“What do I wear? Do I have to be naked?”
Looking back, I see why so many clients are apprehensive about their sessions, particularly the first. A few of the most popular questions I get are, “What do I wear? Do I have to be naked?” I try to make sure clients feel as comfortable as possible regardless of what they decide to wear for the session. But once we start having casual tent chit-chat, most clients relax pretty quickly. I look at clients as my canvas and because I am very detailed I am focused on the best tanning experience I can offer.
To Spray or Not to Spray?
Four years ago, I decided to leave corporate America from a career in healthcare marketing for hospital systems, ad agencies and most recently patient recruitment for clinical trials, and I became freelance consultant. As an independent contractor, I conduct qualitative market research for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. What that means is that on behalf of the healthcare or pharmaceutical client, I have very structured conversations with physicians, clinicians, patients and caregivers to understand how disease is treated and how a patient’s disease journey progresses, what is lacking in treatment options, and where the opportunities are to better serve physicians and patients in supporting disease management. If you’ve ever been in a focus group, I’m the moderator leading the discussion, but I also conduct these conversations by phone and write lengthy reports on summarizing what I heard. I make recommendations as to how the client might use this information for business strategies. Fun!
Like with starting any business, the availability of work is up and down. Sometimes weeks would go by without any research studies and I realized I needed other things to do with my time that were also profitable and fun. I thought about a lot of different options. I knew I needed something that would get me out of the house, be flexible, be with people, and offer some degree of creativity that also leveraged my marketing background. Since I had my own experience with spray tanning as a dancer, I thought about it as a viable option for a part-time business. After talking to the gal who did my spray tans years ago, she gave me some advice and things to think about. She had decided to go down another path at that point and was no longer spray tanning or providing other esthetician services, so I knew I wasn’t going to be in competition with her.
"I knew I needed something that would get me out of the house, be flexible, require me to be with people, and offer some degree of creativity that also leveraged my marketing background."
After a lot of research and looking for a space for my studio, I launched Body Glo by Laura Custom Airbrush Spray Tanning, initially in Willowbrook, now in Oak Brook. I wasted no time deciding on the equipment and solution line I would use for the majority of my clients. There are so many options, but I quite simply chose equipment that my spray tan artist used for my spray tans. Offering the same solution to my clients made me very comfortable having experienced how the solution developed, how long it lasted and how it faded. Fantasy Tan is based in St. Charles, IL, yet they sell their system globally. They are also one of the only spray tan companies including hands-on, in-person training in the start-up package. I hosted a trainer in my basement for six hours learning about how to mix solution and maintain equipment as well as learning technique. I popped open the tent and practiced on two friends, bless their hearts. Many companies offer online spray tan “universities,” but I’m sorry, how do you learn spray tan technique online? It is a technical, hands-on business that takes a lot of practice before you can feel comfortable spraying paying clients.
It’s More Than A Spray Tan
Two years after opening, my thoughts on spray tanning have evolved. Yes, spray tanning at it’s very basic is about how you look. It’s part of the regimen…hair, nails, wax, facial, massage, spray tan.
However, as time went on meeting new clients and hearing their stories, I learned that spray tanning meant more than just “body make-up.” So many clients told me that spray tanning made them feel healthier by having a little color. It was a mood boost. Many clients stopped unhealthy sunbathing due to melanoma and now need to be very careful about being in the sun. A few clients told me that they have a condition causing an allergy to UV rays resulting in a rash and must avoid the sun all together. Some clients have lupus and their medications cause photosensitivity to UV rays, meaning they will burn easily if they are exposed to the sun for too long.
Conversations about other skin conditions come up in the tent, too! Clients tell me about eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo. Vitiligo is a condition where patches of skin permanently lose pigmentation. For this client, it was an opportunity for me to use my blending skills on the chest area so that my client felt more comfortable wearing an open neck top for an event having a more even skin tone. Eczema and psoriasis cause dry or dark patches on the skin, as do other skin conditions and blemishes. My blending skills come in handy for these clients as well. I’m not able to completely mask these areas but I do my best to minimize them enough to boost a client’s confidence a little bit.
"So many clients told me that spray tanning made them feel healthier by having a little color. It was a mood boost."
Some clients share they had cancer surgery. One client expressed concern for me being exposed to her scars from a double mastectomy. Another had a chemotherapy port scar from colorectal cancer treatment. I assure you none of that bothers me. The tent is a judgement free zone. I am there to help clients feel better, whatever that might mean to them. I can’t camouflage every blemish, lump or bump, but I try my best. We even have an industry saying, “If You Can’t Tone It, Tan It!” That I can do and little contouring, too.
"The tent is a judgement free zone."
Coincidentally, I’ve conducted market research on many of these conditions which allows me to speak in an educated manner with some clients about their conditions. I can make better decisions about mixing color, ask the right questions about medications or flares, and empathize as best as I can. This is why I think differently about the role of spray tanning in a client’s life. It’s much more than “body make-up” or simply part of a routine to get ready for a special occasion.
We all know that life is short, but in this crazy time in history we realize more and more that it's fragile. Years ago I read a book, Life is Short, Wear Your Party Pants by Loretta LaRoche. It suggests the you shouldn’t keep the good stuff in the closet or on the shelf waiting for that special occasion. Break out that fancy dress for a dinner or a night out even though people just don't dress up much anymore. Use the good china and crystal for an everyday dinner.
Since we have a few weeks yet as we shelter-at-home, this book might be a good read to cozy up with one night. Or you might just want to throw on your party pants and celebrate life as it stands today. Or find your passion! There's a lot of time for introspection. Either way, I’ll be delighted to see you when you need to get your glo on for that next memory-making event. I'll be ready to “slay the spray!”
Many thanks and Be Well!
Your Glo Master and Spray Tan Artist