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Made in the shade of summer

Alabaster to bronze is just a spritz away. Though there is the nearly naked part.

Published April 2, 2007

[Times photos]
Staff writer Stephanie Hayes before and after a spray-on tan.

CLEARWATER — This time of year, beautiful, tan people ooze from every pore of Tampa Bay like some really sexy disease.

Me? I'm the color of Darth Vader, sans helmet. In the sun, I turn red like Darth Maul.

Clearly, it's time to get hot. And stop using Star Wars references.

I walk into Extreme Tan and Smoothies on Belcher Road in Clearwater for an airbrush tan session.

The staff members are adorable, perky and of course, very tan - like the best girlfriend you secretly resent.

I pay $15, normally $25, but the shop is having a "March Madness" sale. Rachel Schrauwen, my "airbrush technician," leads me to a booth, where I don my old strapless leopard bikini.

I'm suddenly aware of the sock marks on my ankles. Plus, I haven't had a pedicure since Britney had hair.

Rachel puts me at ease with funny stories of boobs, knee fat and strange requests, like "spray the top of my bald head."

Many customers get sprayed stark naked, says Rachel, but some wear shorts and tank tops. Extreme Tan doesn't let male clients drop trou.

Rachel regularly sprays a male doctor, ballroom dancer and body builder. She sprays an older socialite couple and exotic dancers. And she sprays normal chicks with sock marks like me.

She fires up an airbrush gun filled with sugar cane-based liquid dihydroxyacetone, the chemical that makes you dark.

I do awkward poses ranging from da Vinci's Vitruvian Man to Walk Like an Egyptian. She blasts me with cool mist.

How does a by-hand tan stack up to an automated booth, like Mystic Tan?

"What I compare it to is a hand car wash vs. a drive-through," Rachel says. It's more customized. With the handheld gun, Rachel can spray less absorbent areas, like the face, twice. She can get to that wonky bit on your inner thigh. She can obscure old tan lines, sculpt abs or shade cleavage.

I stand in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle garb for 10 minutes to dry. Rachel says to go loaf around - anything involving water or sweat in the next few hours could wash the tan away. Maintained properly, the tan should last at least a week.

I go home and breeze past my boyfriend. "I'd love to help you clean the hot water tank leak, but Rachel said . . ."

He scoffs, and I start my assignment - a huge bowl of Edy's Thin Mint ice cream and reruns of America's Next Top Model.

I am a bronzed goddess. My stomach looks flatter, my legs thinner, my teeth whiter.

The next morning, I put on a tank top for my "after" photo shoot. It's flipping cold out, but I am sunny within.

Leaving the shoot, I flash a Chiclet grin at a homeless man wearing a skull cap and parka. I am on a tan high.

Later, at an outdoor party, a girlfriend eyes me suspiciously.

"You look all tan and warm," she says. "We're freezing."

I smile. I guess the Dark Side wins after all.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (813) 269-5303.

[Last modified April 2, 2007, 06:35:31]

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