Going for the bronze

Do spray tans have to be orange and splotchy? We went under the gun all over town to find out.

Benefit Cosmetics(852 W Armitage Ave, 773-880-9192, benefitcosmetics.com)
The answer, Benefit employees, is no, I was not sooo excited to get a spray tan and I was not anticipating sooo loving it. But I’d just gotten in a bike accident, and even dreaded orange splotches would be better than a body covered in bruises, so I figured, why the hell not. Tracy leads me to a private room, then discusses my coloring options. I’m fair-skinned, so she suggests the lightest. I go with second-lightest, because you only live once. At this point, it dawns on me that I will be naked but for my underwear with another woman instructing me to hold various non-strenuous positions as she spray paints my body. I decide to keep my bra on, which Tracy says is cool and would leave some serious tan lines, which was “very 1970s.” I’ve never associated tan lines with the ’70s, but the lines give my look a just-back-from-the-French-Riviera vibe. Turns out, my satisfaction with the perfectly balanced glow wasn’t (merely) narcissism: At least five people in the office asked whether I’d just come back from vacation.
How long it lasts My “vacation glow” started to fade by the fourth day.
Cost $40—Julia Kramer

Golden Girl Chicago (813-784-4906, goldengirlchicago.com)
Stripping down to a pair of boxer briefs in my boss’s office? Until last week, I never pictured that happening. If it did, I’d imagine it’d come with a nice bundle of cash I’d win from a lawsuit. But all I got was a spray tan. (Don’t worry: no hanky-panky was involved.) I’ve had my fair share of fails when it comes to spray tanning. (I could’ve auditioned to be an Oompa-Loompa.) Hence my reluctance to take on the challenge again, let alone from a mobile airbrusher. But therein was the beauty of the experience. The two-woman venture is made solely for people on the go, which is why they’re willing to come to wherever you are. Within seconds, an inflatable one-man tent pops up and I spend the next 15 minutes being sprayed front to back with an organic DHA solution properly shaded to give my skin a natural-looking sun-kissed jolt—no orange glow this go-round.
How long it lasts Up to seven days based on how often—and how hot—you shower. But I noticed my tan (specifically my face) fading away in about five days.
Cost $45 for one spray tan, $125 for a four-tan monthly package. Group discounts offered for girls (and guys) looking to throw a spray-tan party. —Mark Bieganski

Le Sole (1130 S Wabash Ave, 312-235-1100, lesoletanning.com)
With three weddings to hit in one month, I was eager to ditch my Chicago winter albino-ness by comparing and contrasting multiple spray tans offered around town. But after one visit to Dorota at the South Loop location of Le Sole, I refused to try anyone else: She is that good. After examining my complexion and hearing about the dress I’d wear at that weekend’s wedding, Dorota settles on a shade that’s dark enough to be noticeable but light enough to look natural. She makes the actual spray tanning experience—clients can wear whatever they want, though nothing at all is her recommendation—as comfortable as it can be by chatting away (reality TV, etc.). The color darkens overnight and by the next morning it looks as if I just walked off a beach in Mexico. Two days later, it fades to the perfect sun-kissed shade. With nary a splotch and perfect evenness, I’d be tempted to pop in for an update even without a special event to primp for.
How long it lasts The healthy glow finally faded after a week.
Cost $40 per session, first-time clients get their second session free. —Liz Plosser

Ortanic at The Spa at Equinox (1750 N Clark St, 877-678-2642,ortanic.com)  Ortanic Lincoln Park (939 W North Ave, 312-337-1244, ortanic.com) 
I learned my lesson to never fake bake with Mystic spray tanning after experiencing three shameful days of friends approaching me, concerned about my physical well-being. I was skeptical of the sunless tan but not enough to refuse trying another one. After a quick interview regarding my health and desired color, I strip down to nothing but the nether-region unmentionables and stand in position on a bath mat. The employee spends the next 15 minutes meticulously covering my body back to front twice with the custom blend of ingredients (a combo of mostly natural ingredients such as high-grade beet-sugar extract DHA and walnut and berry extract and chemicals), then dries me off and I am on my way. Hours later, my skin goes from tan-ish to the equivalent of three days in Costa Rica. The next morning, however, I sweat and then shower off the excess color, and walk into work with a warm, healthy glow.
How long it lasts Five to seven days, though I noticed a slight fading in color on my hands and feet by day three
Cost $35 for first-time visits, $45 for follow-ups. Packages range from $200 for five visits to $1,300 for a year of unlimited tans. —Jessica Herman

Spacio (2706 N Halsted St, 773-244-6500, spaciospa.com)
The last time I had a spray tan, a friend nicknamed me “Valentino.” This time, I am determined to look a little more subtle. As I’m relaxing in Spacio’s lounge in a robe, Margaret greets and leads me to the “changing/drying” room where she hands me a plastic cap and a paper thong (it takes me three tries before I figure out which side of the thong is the front). Once I’m “dressed,” she takes me through a doorway and starts spraying. She asks me if I’m getting the tan for a special occasion, and I say no, but I am going to a party in the afternoon. Margaret says to get the tan a day before the event because the color is best the next day. “Plus, the spray can smell a little by the end of the first day,” she says. (She also reminds me not to get wet for the rest of the day: “Make sure no one spills a drink on you.” Oh, Margaret, that’s my goal at every party.) Later in the day, I notice the smell (kind of a sour-meets-burned-skin scent), but it’s not too bad. At least a couple of people at the party tell me I have a nice tan. No nickname this time means my glow is subtle enough.
How long it lasts No more than five days
Cost $60 for the 45-minute service (which includes time to change and dry in front of a large fan). Pre-purchase five tans, and your sixth one is free. —Kevin Aeh


Rules of spray tanning
1. Exfoliate, shave and moisturize that morning. The color will set more evenly if your skin is hydrated and smooth.
2. Focus on your face. Because we wash and touch our faces throughout the day, the tan here tends to fade fastest. Asking for a slightly darker shade on your face helps the color stick around.
3. Bring a magazine. Sessions end with about 10 to 15 minutes of drying in front of a fan. Time flies when you have something to read.
4. Wear loose, dark-colored clothing. Although you’re dry by the end of the session, the color hasn’t finished setting. Loose, dark clothes protect both your garments and your new tan. Slipping into flip-flops post-session is also smart.
5. Wait to shower. Yes, the dye smells a bit, but you’ll have to suffer through it for one night to ensure the color sets. Don’t shower until 12 hours past your appointment and keep the dial at lukewarm instead of hot. One final tip: To extend your tan’s life, consider blotting yourself dry instead of rubbing your bod with a towel. —Liz Plosser

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