Doing my job

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March 22, 2004 // UPDATED 10:22 am - April 25, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

Rachelle Kallevig, General Manager and spray-on tanner, Golden Tan tanning salon, 1300 Nicollet Mall, Hyatt Regency skyway

Rachelle Kallevig may look like she just returned from a tropical cruise, but the blonde 30-year-old has most likely been in the windowless skyway-level Golden Tan salon most of her day.

In fact, the naturally fair Kallevig never steps outside without wearing sun-blocking lotion. Her bronze sheen comes from her weekly trip into the UV-free, full-body, spray-on tanning booth Golden Tan installed last December.

"You know what they say, tan fat looks better than white fat," jokes the vivacious and healthy-looking mother of three.

With vacation and swimsuit season approaching, the tanning industry has entered its busiest time of the year. On average, 40 to 60 Downtowners come into Golden Tan each day, Kallevig said. Approximately one-third opt for the spray-on or Mystic Tan method.

While to some the thought of entering an enclosure in the buff and being doused with skin-color-altering agents sounds like something straight from "The Jetsons," Mystic Tans are practically old hat to others -- including high-profile hotties such as Charlize Theron, Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston.

And as more celebrities come out of the "spray-tan closet," more businessmen (including lots of local, male stockbrokers, Kallevig said) are stepping into the booth, along with the more traditional tanners -- prom- and reunion-goers, travelers, recent divorcees needing a boost, etc.

Kallevig said she's even walked local pro football and basketball players through the spray process, but she won't name names or teams. However, the Timberwolves cheerleaders are willing to share their beauty secrets -- Golden Tan is their official tan-spray purveyor, and the bouncing beauties appear on company post card promotions.

Kallevig herself usually steps into the spray-booth when there's a pause in the salon's schedule and her management duties, such as supervising employees and making sure this and other salons are spic and span. The spraying itself only takes about 30 seconds, 15 seconds for the front and 15 for the back.

"It's quick and simple," Kallevig said, shifting into her step-by-step instruction mode. Patrons pay $16 (on average), enter what looks like a bathroom (sans stool), strip, enter the Mystic Tan booth (which looks like Doctor Who's no-frills time machine crossed with a shower, but with three waist-high nozzles and a clear little roof) and press a button. Tanning solution is emitted on one side, then they turn around and the other is sprayed. Step out, towel off, "then go finish your lunch, or whatever," Kallevig said.

Of course, there are complex aspects to the process. The mostly aloe vera tanning solution's active agent is DHA or dihydroxyacetone, a sugar that reacts with amino acids on the skin's surface, causing them to darken for a UV-free tan.

However, Kallevig rarely has to go into such details. Most people are more concerned about how long the tan will last: four to 10 days. Since melanin is located a little deeper in the dermis, a spray-on tan can't keep you from crisping in the sun. "It's purely cosmetic," Kallevig said.

Tanners use a special blocking lotion to cover their palms (tanned palms can blow the "I've been in Key Largo" cover) and fingernails. Most also wear a salon-provided cap, even though the bronzers won't damage your hair.

Kallevig said customers never complain of orange tints or anything else formerly associated with applied tanning solutions, available since the '60s.

However, on occasion, Akllevig added with a slight giggle, a customer who heard but didn't listen to staff instructions presses the little red button on the left side and stepped into a cold, sterilizing, booth-cleaning shower.