Fake tans aren’t just for white girls

A lot more goes into selecting products and having a tanning business than an orange spray solution


By Andrew Tow

Despite the general connotation of fake tans being a white girl fad, JAG staffer Gabrielle Cabrera describes the thought process and work that goes into a tanning business.

Gabrielle Cabrera, JAG photo editor

It is the last day of the 40 percent off Wellness sale; the smell of scented lotions and heat radiates from every corner of the room. The phones ring one after another as freshly tanned clients walk out and pale clients walk in. A long line of impatient clients runs throughout the tiny lobby as they wait for their turn to lay in a warm bed in a cramped room. The loud voice of the VersaPro spray booth rings in the back as clients get spray tan after spray tan. The smell of spray tan solution intoxicates the salon as each person enters and exits the booth looking slightly more tan than before. The sun hits the horizon, signaling the end of a busy day, employees run room to room cleaning one after another until the salon is clean and the lobby is empty.

Opening in 2000, Solarium was originally named “The Beach” until finally resulting in “Solarium Tanning Salon” in 2003. From various different services, clients can choose from three different bed levels, five levels for a spray tan, Custom Airbrush tan, Fit Bodywrap, Redlight Beauty Angel, Cocoon and more. Service prices range from $40 to $300, and lotion prices range from $15 to $160. Solarium members spend approximately $1,800 per year for unlimited minutes, sprays and more. In the 1920s tanning made it’s big entrance into society when fashion icon Coco Chanel popularized the idea of tanning. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that tanning beds and spray tans became the talk of the town due to the “sun-kissed” look locals raged about. As the years went on and FDA approval got stricter, today’s tanning beds have become more safe and efficient than in the 1980s. “Safety has always been the most important thing we look for when choosing products,” Overland Park manager Julia Ramirez said. “Whether it is a specific formula, the portion of bronzer, or a specific bed we use as a service, our client’s safety is a priority.” 

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There are five main steps in selecting lotions and primers to sell to clients; having a large portion of bronzer without burning the client, finding a formula that will react well with all skin types, finding a scented formula without lowering the amount of bronzer, having a range in prices, and having lotions for both beginners and experts. “Finding the equal balance between beginner tanners and expert tanners is what makes it difficult,” Ramirez said. “We don’t want new clients to burn, but don’t want expert tanners to get little to no color at the same time.” Each year in mid-October, Solarium has a meeting with all four stores with all employees to go over every new product giving each employee a sample package. “Experience is how we get clients to buy our products,” Ramirez said. “Our employees have to know each product in order to sell it efficiently to our clients. In order to do this, we hold an annual meeting when we get our new products so they get a first-hand look at what we are selling and how to sell them.”

Frequent tanners may face some backlash for going to tanning salons, whether it is the typical “orange-pumpkin spice” white girl or rich old woman “tan to the bone.” Day after day, a variety of people walk into the salon, lotion bottle in hand and their eyewear ready to go. None quite fit the generic stereotypes given by locals who believe skin cancer is caused by bed tanning. “I never really understood the judgment people gave me for tanning,” Solarium client Katie Heathers said. “In all honesty, if they paid attention, they would understand just how incorrect they are.” Solarium uses a different solution for their VersaPro Spa spray booths which contain 5 different shade levels; Light, Natural, Dark, Dark Plus, and Ultra Dark. The booths contain a solution with a violet undertone to eliminate any orange hue that can be caused by the DHA chemical when it reacts with proteins in the skin. “I’ve never had a catastrophic experience where I walk out of the spray booth and I am suddenly an orange color,” Heathers said. “That is something you only see in movies.” 

Each night, the lights turn off, the spray booths are dried, and two employees remain to close the salon for the night. Solarium employees go through various supervised training before being allowed to work by themselves. Each bed cleaned and detailed, each booth sprayed and wiped down, every hallway swept and mopped, laundry switched in and out of the drier, and all clients attended to. The most important part of the job is sanitation. Given a single toothbrush and some Calcare, every employee must scrub, scrape, and brush each corner, crease, and crack in every room, before the end of their shift. The walls must be wiped weekly, decorations dusted daily, and floors swept hourly in order for the salon to meet the sanitation requirements. If requirements aren’t met, clients could get ill, employees could be fired, and lawsuits could be filed. In any salon, restaurant, store, etc. sanitation is the single most important thing to an employee. If a client feels gross sitting in an unclean bed, with previous sweat laying on it, the client won’t come back and will warn their friends against it. This causes a downfall in profits, ultimately resulting in the closing of the business altogether all because someone didn’t do their job. 

The most important part of the job is sanitation.

— JAG staffer Gabrielle Cabrera

In order to use certain services, you must be of a certain age. To be able to use the Cacoon and Redlight Beauty Angel, clients must be 16 years or older. For all three bed levels, clients must be 18 or older as well as for the Fit Bodywrap. As for the spray booths, clients of any age can use the service, but if under the age of 16 an adult’s approval is required. As a new client, three sheets must be filled out before using a service. One is the client information sheet to put them in the system, the second is of any health issues that may affect their ability to use the service, and the third is a membership sheet full of the products and services they wish to purchase. “We try and make it as easy as possible when signing up a new client,” Ramirez said. “We don’t want our client’s first impression to be a handful of paperwork, we want them to use our services quick and easy.” 

The clients line the lobby in an S shape with a bottle of lotion and eyewear in their hands. A strong scent of lavender is wafted throughout the whole salon as the diffusers turn on and off. Golden and bronzed clients walk out the doors happy, as a need to relax clients walk in. A long day hanging on their shoulders. 


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