Spray it Safe

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million non-melanoma skin cancer cases diagnosed yearly in the U.S. are considered to be sun related. Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation is one of the biggest risks for developing non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer. As more attention is given to the dangers of skin cancer, more spas are doing their part to help clients prevent it by offering the latest trend in suncare services—sunless tanning.

Sunless tanning offers clients a safer alternative to basking in the sun, with the same glowing results. "Because of all the information that is out there about UV rays and their damaging short- and long-term effects, sunless tanning is becoming increasingly popular," says Kim DeMers, director of operations for SunFX America. "People want to achieve the same results as a day in the sun but in a safer way, and sunless tanning does that."

Available in either a spray booth form, an airbrush formula applied by a technician, or a hand-applied lotion, sunless tanning works because of the ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a simple carbohydrate often derived from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. DHA works by reacting with dead skin cells on the surface of the body, causing them to turn brown. As dead skin peels off, the tan fades, just like a natural suntan.

A Faux Glow
A Faux Glow

While sunless tans generally last anywhere from five to seven days, the attention to pre- and post-tanning care can help prolong a tan, therefore it is critical that spa technicians accurately educate clients on how to achieve the best results. "I always recommend that the person booking the sunless tanning appointment at the spa inform the client on the measures they should use before coming in for the treatment," says Veronique Munro, founder and CEO of Infinity Sun.

Clients who want only the sunless tanning service are encouraged to exfoliate their body at home for optimal results. At many spas, clients can also opt to have an upgraded sunless tanning service, which often includes a body exfoliation and an application of post-tanning product, for an additional cost. At Aqua Star Spa at the Beverly Hilton (Beverly Hills, CA), clients can either receive the California Tan ($65, 20 minutes), which is an airbrushed application of sunless tanning spray or the Starburst Tan ($160, 80 minutes), which also includes a body scrub and hydration treatment.

Getting clients to return to the spa for sunless tanning on a regular basis is a challenge in itself, but the sunless tanning industry has also faced the challenge of attracting clients who have had bad experiences in the past. Even though sunless tanning systems have become much more efficient in recent years, some clients still have visions of orange and streaky skin. It was these bad experiences that encouraged Munro to develop Infinity Sun in 2005, an all-natural sunless tanning system enriched with botanicals that allow technicians to apply custom color on their clients by mixing and creating the perfect ratio of color on the machine's LCD panel.

St. Tropez is also on the cutting-edge, as it recently improved its formula to eliminate the odor associated with sunless tanning. Its new Aromaguard technology leaves skin smelling fresh with hints of iris root, fruits, and violets. "We solved one of the biggest criticisms of sunless tanning—the smell that is left on the skin," says Michelle Feeney, CEO of St. Tropez. "Now clients can have a tan and immediately go back to work or out to dinner."

While achieving a tan in the natural sun can take weeks or months, most sunless tanning systems take anywhere from 20 to 80 minutes to apply and just a few minutes to show results. Others, like SunFX, boast an all-natural, paraben-free formula, which is applied and dried in just five minutes. "Our technology makes it a profitable service," says DeMers. "The average price of one treatment is around $50 to $65, but the application itself costs the spa only $5, so a spa can see more clients in a shorter amount of time."

In addition, sunless tanning systems generally do not take up much space in spas and can often easily be set up in either a facial or massage room. Many are even available as portable systems, such as SunFX's SunStation, which includes a mobile backdrop that estheticians can use at a client's home or hotel room to prevent the product from spraying on walls. St. Tropez also offers options, including stationary and portable systems. "We work knowing spas are limited in space so we offer them options," says Feeney. "Sunless tanning systems require low maintenance with high payback."

While spas can increase their bottom line by adding sunless tanning services, they can also benefit from selling pre- and post-sunless tanning products, which are not only used as part of the sunless tanning treatment but can also be sold as retail to help clients extend their tans at home. From body scrubs and lotions to tan extenders and on-the-go sprays, spas have myriad opportunities to sell retail to sunless-tanning clients.

Munro recommends that spas always encourage clients to purchase pre- and post-tanning products to get the most out of their treatment. She suggests marketing sunless tanning by combining all products together and enclosing a gift certificate for a custom-blended tan. Another good way to encourage clients to return to the spa for sunless tanning is to offer packages like "buy five and get one free," which allows clients to use the service over time and save money. It also serves as a commitment to return to the spa. Munro suggests creating a "prescription," which is kept on file and lists each clients' skintone and what tanning solution was used so that a client can receive consistent results each time he or she returns for the service.

Sunless tanning is a smart investment for spas, according to DeMers, because spa-goers, now more than ever, are more aware of the effects of sun damage and expect spas to offer sunless tanning. Munro adds that not offering sunless tanning can actually hurt a spa's business. "There is such a high demand for sunless tanning these days that by not offering it, it can actually drive traffic to other spas that do it," says Munro. "Offering the service gives current clients a reason to stay loyal and can entice new clients, as well."

Day and resort spas are not the only locations offering sunless tanning services. DeMers has noticed an increase in tanning salons that want to offer their clients this safer alternative in addition to tanning beds, and medical spas that have brought sunless tanning into their space as an add-on to services after anti-aging treatments, such as microdermabrasion. "I've noticed medical spas, such as La Jolla Spa MD (CA), tack on sunless tanning to the end of different treatments to encourage clients to stay out of the sun after receiving procedures for the best results and to protect their sensitive skin," she says.

Another trend in sunless tanning is using it for body contouring, which is when one color is applied to one part of the body, while a different shade is applied to problem areas—thighs, stomach, or arms—to leave the body looking slimmer and sculpted. "There are so many ways in which sunless tanning can help a spa grow, because it's a year-round business," says Feeney. "Sunless tanning encourages clients to stay out of the sun, and it helps them achieve a radiant glowing appearance in a short amount of time. The result is definitely a self-esteem booster, and women love that." —Nicole Palmieri