Fake It Till You Make It

I (Finally) Tried It: Spray Tanning

A former tanorexic tries a safer method of achieving that coveted sun-kissed glow.

By Abby Ledoux April 5, 2018

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Most girls do it in the buff, though.

I was naked within minutes of meeting Stacey Fike. That’s how most girls do it, she told me. In the buff.

We’re talking about spray tanning here, folks, the airbrushed method of faux glow that began to surge in popularity in the ‘80s, yet somehow still took me 25 years to try. By contrast, I started fake-and-baking via tanning bed in high school, encouraged by girlfriends similarly seeking that summertime bronze in the bleak Vermont midwinter.

I tan easily, and like most other women since 1923–when Coco Chanel reportedly (accidentally) popularized the trend after too much fun in the sun on a Cannes yacht–firmly believe I look my best when I’m a shade or two darker. For a while, I'd achieve that by any means necessary. Growing up in an arctic tundra, I was forced to take that into my own hands, frequenting a place called Body Le Bronze where my only human interaction was answering the inquiry, “lay down or stand up?” (I prefer to lay down and have occasionally been known to fall asleep in the warm, relaxing bed, only to awaken when the timer goes off and the entire room, once filled with blinding light, powers down.) 

I’ll be the first to admit I was reckless in my pursuit of those precious (but deadly) rays, reaching peak tanorexia status my freshman year of college where, for a time, I imagine it’d be hard to pin down my ethnicity. More than one friend of mine has endured hole-punch-style removal of a freaky looking mole, a fate I’ve thankfully–shockingly–been spared from thus far. Still, as I grew older and wiser, I learned to cool it (literally) with the ultraviolet. Then, I moved to Texas. 

It’s sunny and warm here a lot more often­–and earlier–than it is in Vermont, where my Victorian-chic skin would still long be safely concealed beneath cable knit. Suddenly, my alabaster legs and arms were on full display for the world, and they were damn pale. Enter Stacey Fike, who’s now seen more of me than anyone I’ve met on the job, owner of GloGirl Spray Tanning. For more than a decade, GloGirl has expertly sprayed Houstonians to that coveted, carcinogen-free level of tawny.

Spray tanning is by no means a new or untested practice, yet I was still left with questions derived from a mix of hand-me-down horror stories and that one episode of Friends: Would I end up orange, the second coming of Donald Trump? Would I mess it up by crying or sweating or spilling something, my clumsiness suddenly exposed to the world in the form of an undisguisable streak? Would I miss that sweet, lingering scent unique to a tanning bed or a long, restful day at the beach?


Answer: no, no, and no. Unlike Ross Geller, I was sprayed by Fike’s handheld device, which allowed her to craft a customized glow pattern (my term, not hers) and strategically highlight certain areas that would naturally get more sun, like my décolletage or parts of my legs. Fike clued me in when to turn, hold my breath, close my eyes, and how to position my limbs–all tips Ross was sorely missing in the automatic booth that left him uneven and generally horrifying. 

It’s true that I had to avoid any kind of moisture for the rest of the night–no showering, sweating, or swimming for six to eight hours after a spray–but I did so successfully, and maybe even a little too carefully, using the whole thing as an excuse to cancel plans and lay completely still on top of my (non-white) sheets.

 I also learned some tips I’d like to pass along on the off-chance you, like me, are a fellow spray tan virgin:

  • Wax or shave before your tan, and while you’re at it, exfoliate–all of this will help your tan take better hold.
  • Make sure you have a darker shade of makeup on deck. Your face tans, too, a fact you’ll quickly realize when, say, you apply the Fenty Beauty foundation you purchased around Christmastime and end up having to blend it all the way down your neck.
  • Wear dark, loose clothing to your appointment to avoid orange-staining aftermath. I did this successfully, except for my footwear: I arrived in form-fitting, over-the-knee suede boots, only to drive home barefoot.

Fike warned me I’d become addicted, and it’s true that I’m jonesing for another fix. Aside from the healthy glow that only deepened over the next few days, I was perhaps most pleased by the scent, which I can only describe as “tan” and not dissimilar to that which I so loved upon exiting the tanning bed or my beach towel. Getting there will cost you more money–around $60 at GloGirl–but far less fear in the form of impending skin cancer. After all, not having to suspiciously check your body for weird, misshapen spots or, worse yet, have them hole-punched off of you? Priceless.

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