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The Business of Safe Tanning

From over-the-counter creams and lotions that consumers were required to self-apply, to customized spray tans applied in a few minutes by trained technicians, the airbrush/spray tanning industry has evolved to become one of the fastest growing and most lucrative facets of the beauty industry.
Salons, spas, dermatologists, and other skin care treatment centers have discovered the affordable and profitable opportunity in adding spray tanning to their menu of services, to open the door and invite in new clients.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a colorless 3-carbon sugar that, when applied to the skin, causes a chemical reaction with amino acids in the surface cells, producing a darkening effect. DHA does not damage skin as it only affects the outermost cells of the epidermis (stratum corneum).

The coloration of the “tan” produced by DHA is completely water resistant and diminishes only as the dead cells of the outermost layer flake off. The depth and color of tan achieved is unique and dependent upon an individual’s skin type, tone, and activity level.
I have purchased and tried many different solutions, compressors, airbrushes, and spray guns, and tested new products for manufacturers before they are even on the market.
The initial investment is relatively small compared to the potential profits that spray tanning can bring. Although it may seem like a big investment to add yet another service, I have found that with some innovation you can transform a small space, approximately 12’ x 12’, into an adequate spray studio.
The compressor is the biggest expense in spray tanning. It needs to be powerful enough to accommodate a spray gun, with minimal noise. I have settled upon a quiet compressor, which is especially necessary in a serene spa environment, one that will provide many years of service. Attaching a good spray gun to the compressor creates a very efficient, cost effective machine.
When the airbrush/spray tanning industry was in its infancy, people began by using an airbrush attached to a small compressor. The small diameter of spray that the airbrush put forth made the procedure slow and messy. With today’s equipment, I can finish a spray tanning session in a fraction of the time and almost dry the client simultaneously while tanning her. This gives me the opportunity of tanning more clients per day and not worry about my equipment failing.
In order to clear the overspray from the studio, many options are available. I solved this issue by purchasing two square fans from a local hardware store and a roll of upholstery batting. Because DHA solutions are water-soluble, a coat of light-colored, high-gloss paint was applied to my studio walls, and clean-up is very easy.
I have added appropriate, directional light, which can also be purchased at local hardware stores, and voila! I have my studio and equipment for less than $2,000.
The next big challenge is to have a well-trained technician. Training and education is the most rewarding part of my business. Although not very complicated, the technique does need to be learned and perfected. The advantage of the treatment being applied by a trained technician rather than by the consumer themselves is a personalized service addressing the particular needs of each client - color, shade, and depth, the client’s body shape, and the ability to reach all areas that may be missed in a spray booth or even during conventional sunbathing.
An added service that can be easily taught is “contouring”, where the technician sculpts the body with shading, enhancing natural curves, broadening or narrowing certain areas, and highlighting muscle tone. This is especially appealing to models, dancers, and body-builders.
A bad spray experience can not only turn a client away from spray tanning, but also can result in negative word-of-mouth advertising by that client. A good technician should have an understanding of the tanning process and limitations, and be able to educate the consumer in pre- and post-tanning treatment.
Pre- and post-tanning services and products can be very profitable for the salon, including exfoliating scrubs, moisturizers, and tan extending lotions. Additionally, sessions can be added to other services providing special packages throughout the year such as a Client Referral Programs, Bridal Specials, Valentine’s Day, proms, and dances, etc.
Now, when your studio is well-functioning, the next challenge is what kind of solution to offer. Every day I get calls from manufacturers and distributors of solution offering different prices and products, and promising “the next best thing”. I have never purchased a gallon of DHA unless the company was willing to send me a sample for testing beforehand, giving me the ability to compare different priced solutions and cut overhead expenses. I tested the samples from various companies on my five models and made a decision based on quality and price. Don’t think that the most expensive solution is necessarily the best, although quality is more important than price. As I mentioned before, a good tan will not only keep the client returning, but she or he will be a walking advertisement for your business.
I have discovered that the public does not have much knowledge or has been misguided about spray tanning. It is very important to get the word out. Let your clients know that you have added this service, explain that it is the tan of choice by dermatologists.
Dermatologist Barry S. Friter, M.D. says “Self-tanning solutions containing DHA are safe, won’t photo-age you, and won’t cause cancer. They are a safe and effective method of giving the appearance of a tan without the damaging effects of UV rays from the sun or tanning beds.”
Another effective method of advertising I have experienced with a number of my trained salons is to throw a Grand Opening Party. I was able to join a couple of the spas during these special events with my equipment and we offered free tans to invited guests. A person who got their face, or arm, or indeed any body part spray tanned went home with a wonderful sample of how effective this service was. At all the parties, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Of course, keeping yourself and your employees tanned, as well as using newspaper ads and billboards can be useful too.
With all of today’s options of getting a tan, including sunbathing, tanning beds, spray booths, and rubbing DHA on the skin, I have found that professional spray tanning is the most effective. Sunless tanning is the SAFEST method of tanning and spray tanning will stand the test of time.

Doron Zahal, owner of Airbrush Tan Philadelphia, LLC, is a Professional Speaker, Educator and Trainer in the Airbrush/Spray Tanning industry. With over 15 years experience and expertise in the Airbrush Body Painting world, and five years in the Airbrush/Spray tanning world, he is regarded as a top expert in his field. Doron has presented seminars and workshops as well as trained over 50 top salons, and has been featured on WB 17, and CBS News, DaySpa Magazine, Times Chronicle, Northeast Times, and the Globe. Doron Zahal can be contacted at 215-938-8877 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His website is www.AirbrushTanPhiladelphia.com, or you can meet Doron Zahal at his booth at the Philadelphia Esthetics Show, March 19th and 20th. He will be conducting a workshop at the Show on March 20th, 2006"

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