I've been pallid my entire life.

I'm the one in the pool with his shirt on; I use SPF 45 and don't like to linger in the bright places. I'm not Goth or demure. The fact is I burn easier than a mattress in a flophouse. And because of my genetic prison sentence, I am burdened with an "us vs. them" mentality. "Them" being those who are tanned and socially described as "attractive," and "us" being those who ain't. Luckily, in today's technologically advanced world, even pallid unattractive types can get a jump on the competition with what's known as a "spray-on tan." Is this unfair to those who have worked so hard for their golden hue? Absolutely. But the pallid unattractive people of the world need all the help they can get.

A Mystic Journey

The Mystic Tan® phenomenon is basically an updated combination of two well-tested processes that have long been mainstays in consumer markets. It combines the product known as DHA, or more scarily, Dihydroxyacetone, with automotive paint booth airbrushing techniques. Yikes.

DHA is actually a semi-harmless chemical that was first marketed by tan giant Coppertone® in the '60s as a lotion called Quick Tan®. Nearly 10 years later, the FDA finally approved the product and added it to its list of approved cosmetic ingredients. DHA is a colorless three-carbon sugar that produces a darkening effect in reaction to contact with the amino acids in the outermost layer of skin. This sunless tanning agent, when applied in its lotion suspension, darkens the skin but often leaves the user streaky or orange, or both. What was needed for widespread success was an even application in a controlled environment.

As a former employee of a high-end auto body paint shop, I immediately recognized the Mystic Tan® process as similar if not identical to that which I had employed to paint Porsche and Mercedes Benz quarter panels. Seeing that DHA was supposedly less toxic than caffeine, and having spent enough time in actual paint booths to logically nullify any supposed health risk, I was ready for the plunge.


The chipper and affable employee (let's call him Skipper) of the centrally located Mystic Tan® tanning facility was willing to answer all my questions when I phoned.

"Will I turn orange?"

"Not necessarily."

"Do I have to get naked?"

"Most people do."

"How long does it last?"

"Under optimal conditions, five to seven days."

He then stressed the importance of exfoliating and the use of additional tan-enhancing product lines, which I promptly ignored.

"Do I need an appointment?"

"No. We do walk-ins."

"Will it stain my clothes?"

"Sometimes, if you perspire after toweling off, the bronzer will discolor your clothes. But it washes out."


"Yes. It gives you an immediate result. The DHA takes about four hours to set in for your Mystic Tan® look."

"Okay. How many applications will it take for me to look like George Hamilton?"


"Never mind. I want to look pretty dark. How many applications will that take?"

"Three to four, initially, and then once or twice a week for maintenance."

"Really? That many?"


"And how much is a session?"

"We have a special on Mondays (Mystic Mondays) for $15. Otherwise it's $25 per session. The other places that offer sunless tans usually charge around $35 per session."

"Really? Okay, thanks."

Altered States

At my first session, Skipper was on the premises, offering his beautifully tanned guiding hand.

"You have to fill out this form. It's really just a formality."

I was handed a gradated genetic disposition and allergen reaction questionnaire. I quickly and silently assessed my genetic disposition and filled out the form truthfully, for my own safety. The horror of being categorized genetically and then stepping into a gas chamber did not escape me.

After assessing my gradated score, Skipper shrieked, "You're a 12 [on a rough scale from paste white (zero) to coal black (35)]? I wish there was a category for albino! You're in good hands though, really. We'll fix up that farmer's tan in no time."

After a brief coaching session on physical procedure, I stepped into the dressing room and got naked. Nervous, I forgot to take the precautions of donning a hairnet, covering my eyes, or even wearing the FDA recommended nose-plugs. Even more unfortunately, I had forgotten to grease my nails and exfoliate. Damn! At least I had taken a shower.

"Ready to go?" I hollered.

"All ready," yelled Skipper. "Just hit the button when you're ready."

Naked, I stepped inside, and felt a little like William Hurt in the Altered States isolation chamber.

I hit the button and struck the pose necessary to evenly coat my naked front. A foggy mist squirted from the supposedly laser-guided multi-faceted nozzles. They moved carwash-like from foot to head, and then stopped. As instructed, I then turned around and seconds later was fogged about my backside. The entire process lasted about a minute, I estimate. Though I was instructed not to, I found it necessary to take at least two breaths while undergoing the process. Mystic Tan® has a kind of sweet, caramel-chemical taste; like a Nat Sherman without the smoke.

I stepped out, toweled off, got dressed, and resumed my day as if I were an American Senator who had just received a discreet blowjob from an appreciating page. I didn't notice any stickiness or overt residue, but I smelled and felt slightly starchy.

The Total Look

Immediately I was thrown into the world of self-examination. No mirror or plate of reflective glass went unchecked. I was utterly self-aware. My initial color wasn't really that impressive. I looked a little darker, but only slightly. As the day wore on I progressively darkened until around the four-hour mark, when I plateaued. The feedback from friends and coworkers was varied, ranging from admiration ("You look healthier!") to nonplussed ignorance ("Are those new shoes?").

At home, my wife inspected my new tan body and decided I looked weird. "Your ass looks darker though," she added, as if that might be a good thing. Of course I looked weird, I'd never been all the way tanned before--but I was still miles away from George Hamilton. For the result I wanted, I would definitely have to go back for additional fogging.

The next day on my lunch break, I returned to the salon to find the employees felt familiar enough with my situation to mock me.

"He's a 12. Can you believe it?" teased Skipper.

"Ohmigod, you should cut your hair into a mullet to match your farmer's tan," his coworker added.

I laughed mirthlessly at their bored musings.

Back in the booth, I was a pro. I hadn't forgotten the precautions this time and was absurdly proud of myself. Also, my anticipation was embarrassing. I hit the booth, hit the button, toweled off and returned to work.

By four o'clock I was looking very "healthy" and was sporting a surfer boy affectation. I even developed a new hair flip for my slightly grown-out mane. I was considering highlights to go with my tan, and maybe a greasy Van Halen 'stache, too. This was rad! My coworkers were predominantly impressed, admiring my healthy glow and expressing interest in undergoing the Mystic® for themselves. I even learned that one of them already utilized the Mystic Tan®.


Looking "healthier" was fun, if a little weird. There were, however, definite flaws in the system. The parts of me that stuck out, my nose and ass, for example, looked a little darker than the rest. My hands and feet looked moderately tobacco-stained, which was unpleasant. Also, the fade is uneven. The parts of your body that have more dead skin (such as your feet) tend to look patchy as the tan fades.

Was it worth it? Sure. After all, the Mercury paid for it, not me. The $40 spent resulted in a noticeable, healthful looking glow--however fleeting. To achieve and maintain a respectable look would require a little more care (exfoliating, treating your nails beforehand and moisturizing) and a lot more expense. I'd say three initial treatments and then once a week for upkeep would be necessary to maintain a desirable result. That's a little too much out of pocket for me personally, so unless my insurance provider decides to include looking healthy in its coverage, I'll be keeping my shirt on, thank you very much.