The Beginner Beauty Addict’s Guide to Getting a Spray Tan

A spray tan in Canda (not me)

A spray tan in Canada (Note: this is not me) DAVIDE BUSCEMI/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe it’s because everything is a little more miserable in the winter—subway cars are full of tourists and germs, the office is half-empty on any given day, my room has turned into a den of sloth and dirty clothes on the ground because I’m too cold to do anything but curl up under a duvet—but I found myself suddenly struck by the urge to get a spray tan.

The problem, the biggest problem, is evident upon seeing me: I am a pale, ruddy, ghostlike white that causes employees at Sephora to raise their eyebrows and tell me they don’t think this brand actually has anything that will match me, sorry.

The next problem is that I’ve never gotten a fake tan before.

The responsible citizen I am, I’ve been conditioned early on to balk at the idea of tanning beds—the phrase “cancer coffin” is somehow rattling around my brain, origins unknown. My tanning adventures were limited to seeing the streaky, orange horror stories on sitcoms and women’s magazine “OMG” columns, and the occasional very brave and very careful application of Jergen’s most subtle shade once or twice after a shower.

But this is 2016, and I am an adult woman. I’ve gotten fake eyelashes, and had strangers blow-dry my hair in salons that offer you champagne. Maybe getting a fake tan is on the list of things I’m supposed do in order to be a woman considered attractive, like using serums on my face and eating blueberries, things that every hot woman has been doing all along and I just haven’t realized it. And surely there is a world of spray tans accessible to me that’s something closer to the experience of Victoria’s Secret Model than “desperate high school student before Winter Formal.”

And of course, there is. Gotham Glow in Manhattan is a boutique spray tan salon that offers clients the chance at the same subtle, foolproof formula they offer to (certain unnamed) celebs before awards season. A spray tan, they promise, will make your body look 15 pounds thinner.

“It’s like makeup for the body,” Tamar Vezirian, Gotham Glow’s owner and founder, said. With her input, I selected the classic “Gotham Glow” tan, a sort of middle of the road between their “Microglow” and “Macroglow” options. As long as I’m here doing this, I figured, might as well make the results visible.

Contrary to what you might expect, I learned that you actually shouldn’t come into a spray tanning appointment with freshly moisturized skin. “We can always tell when someone comes in right after doing a facial,” Tamar told me. Who are these women who get facials regularly enough that they have to time them against their spray tan appointments? Is it infinitely obvious that I’m not one of them?

Because, really, I’m not one of them. As desperately as I might try to cultivate my Instagram aesthetic, my real life look is generally a hefty step down from a Gwyneth Paltrow-dom. I wear sweaters I left on the floor, and go too long between eyebrow waxes, and don’t change my sheets often enough, and usually forget to eat breakfast. Trying to be effortlessly glamorous, for me, has been like running on an endless treadmill, in that I get exhausted after approximately eleven minutes and then walk as slowly as I can while watching Bravo on mute on the gym televisions.

If you have never gotten a spray tan before, here is what the process is like:

  1. First, take off all of your clothes. Yes, all of them. Bra and underwear too. Try to fold them on the chair in your small curtained area, or, failing that, compress them into a relatively small pile.
  1. Admire/grimace at yourself in the floor-length mirror.
  1. Put on the paper lunch-lady hair cap to cover your hair, and then the pair of disposable underwear (lunch-lady pubic hair cap).
  1. Wait for the spray tanner to come back in, (“Hey!” you call into the void, unsure if anyone is out there, “I’m ready?”) and follow all directions.

Tamar was casual about my naked body like a doctor or a veteran bikini waxer. I could have had three arms and she wouldn’t have blinked.

“Stand here,” she said, and I did, in front of a screen-like thing, and then began the 5 or so minutes of actual spray tanning or, The Strangest Calisthenics I Have Ever Done.

In order to make sure your entire body is evenly covered, the tanner instructs you in something akin to the hokey pokey. Left arm in, left arm out, right arm in, right arm out. Now squat. Now turn. Now right elbow in, now left elbow in, now turn to the side, now the other side. And repeat. And repeat.

And like that, it’s done. I sneak a peak under the band of the paper underwear and see that, yes, the tan really did make a big difference. I got a tan line. And I wasn’t orange!

After standing in front of a fan she set up for five minutes, I was good to get dressed in loose, dark clothes, and without a bra.

“The biggest mistake people make when getting a tan is not following directions,” Tamar said.

I tried to be a goddam Girl Scout: I was braless all day, waited a full day to shower, and then moisturized afterward. At first, I was worried the spray tan would be too obvious; I kept passing myself in mirrors and doing a double take, so unaccustomed was I to seeing a reflection that didn’t resemble Wednesday Addams. But it seemed the change was only obvious to me.

My boyfriend didn’t say anything when he met me that night even though I had half-convinced myself that I looked like Monica in the episode of Friends when her hair gets all frizzy. “I got my spray tan today,” I prompted him

“Oh, I think I see it,” he said. “Looks good.”

And it did, if you like that sort of thing. No it didn’t immediately transform me into Jessica Alba or Blake Lively or any of the Hollywood Golden Girls that always seems to be, in hair and skin, literally a shade of molten gold, but I was never in contention for a surfer girl aesthetic. My vibe is, and always has been, girl who looks like she drinks lots of tea and enjoys the indoors (I do).

Within about 10 days, even I stopped seeing the tan. Though it did, I’m pretty sure, make my body look thinner, I think I also messed something up by wearing a bra too soon and I ended up with another week of a muddy streaked stain under my boobs.

I’ll probably get a spray tan again for my wedding, or if I’m ever in another winter funk that might be abetted by an external jolt. But even when I do, I do so with a newfound awareness: I am not that girl who gets facials and gets spray tans, and even pretending I was didn’t make my room any cleaner or my Instagram any goal-ier or my breakfast any more… existent. I was just Dana, same Dana, slightly more tan.

A full body Gotham Glow (including face) is available for $75. Gotham Glow is located at 1123 Broadway #417.

The Beginner Beauty Addict’s Guide to Getting a Spray Tan