As an Asian my culture dictates that I be “light”. That I do all I can to maintain an “attractive” pale skin tone. From applying “whitening face masks” to regularly shading myself from the sun. Common tools to achieve such a look include the oversized face visor and an opened black umbrella on a cloudless summer day. I was taught that tanning naturally or in a bed could cause skin cancer, it would make me look older, and it may even make me less attractive. Granted anything done excessively can be bad for you. So there I was staying away from beaches, lingering in the shade, and avoiding general outdoor activities. It wasn’t until my first trip to Mexico that I was faced with the need to tan. I learned it was called a base tan. I needed one if I was to avoid a burn with all the exposure to sun that I would be getting. I ended up liking it, though I am sure the extra vitamin D helped to sway my opinion. With my imagination I was swept up and away on a beach chair, by a pool, in the tropics.
Fast forward a few years later, and I am still visiting “Suntopia” for my tanning needs. I like the feeling I earn walking out of a tanning bed. The warmth my body achieves and the smile my face dawns. I especially like the way my skin looks, darken, more exotic. And I also find it helps to diminish many blemishes on my face and hide more cellulite on my legs. Ultimately avoiding the need for foundation and cover up and increasing the use of short shorts.
The popularity of tanning is dependant on culture, considering ethnicity. Darkness in skin tone can be exotic; associating with beaches, hot sun, and tropical drinks. But for others it could show labouring in the fields, working with your hands, and generally not make very much. For some it determines status.
The shop is one of many in the expanding area by Brentwood Mall and skytrain. There is free parking in the lot underground, though with narrow stalls and selfish drivers this can be a challenging episode. No appointment necessary. It is first come first serve, drop in only. With multiple beds, I have never had to wait. Though depending on time and occasion the traffic fluctuates. From youths wanting some colour for the clubs, workout enthusiasts tanning to edge out extra definition, to those suffering from emphysema that use such a service to improve their skin and quality of life.
You enter and are always greeted by the cheerful face of a young woman. They recognize regulars if not by name, by face. If this is your first visit you are required to fill wavers and set up a profile. Additional visits require your last name and a confirmation of identity only.
The counter is mesmerizing. Shelves lined with bottles of lotion. Each dressed and named to stand out. The tanning service itself is inexpensive. It is the price of the lotion that costs you. From $80-150 depending on the brand and purpose. With a clear division between those for men and others for women. Often colour plays a part in this differentiation. Dark blues, black, and brown for men. Every colour under the rainbow for women. Some even come with charms and bonus gifts for that extra lure to buy.
Everyone who endorses tanning and the beach culture has a bottle in their name. “Snooki” and “Jwoww” represent the “Jersey Shore” with leopard print and glittery bottles. Kim Kardasian has her name on a pink curvy bottle. And Ed Hardy endorses the lifestyle with a black bottle ornately decorated with his tattoo-like designs. With these as the role models and faces for pro tanning I can see possible stigma.
I choose my bottle based on promotion, price and smell. In my mind they all serve the same purpose: to give you an even tan. Though some offer bronzer to darken, some state extra moisture to improve dry skin, and others promote their slimming properties for a toned look. By far the best promotion is buying a bottle and earning 200 tanning minutes in any bed. Or purchasing a bottle and getting a month’s worth of unlimited tanning. Though more often the promotion is discounted bottles or buying one and earning a price reduction on another. Some are meant for face and others just body. But once again I don’t see the difference aside from marketing. For those who are unprepared to purchase a bottle that lasts about a year, depending on use, you can look to packets. On average they are $10 and offer enough for a full body lotion coating. Though in the long run you can see you are paying more for less. You pay for 10 more uses from a bottle that earns you double if not triple the uses.
You are able to leave any paraphernalia with them from the above bottle(s) to your goggles. A clever decision as it allows for drop ins on a whim. Your lotion is kept on file so that the clerk is able to pull it out from their cupboard below. The googles, in plastic baggies in a big bowl, like Halloween candle ready to be passed out. Goggles are necessary to avoid eye damage in the form of burnt and irreparable corneas. They occur when you look directly into the lights of a tanning bed unprotected. Horrifying coloured photos adhered to the counter reminds you of this. If you forget yours or can’t commit to buying one for the $6-15 price they sell one use stickers for $1. Gold cone shaped adhesives to protect.
As an extra they offer complimentary stickers. The stickers are used on the body to give you a sun tattoo. By adhering either of their hearts or playboy bunny logos to your skin and tanning, it created tan lines around that given patch. After removing the sticker the skin under it will be slightly lighter. For clear results you will need to do this more than once. And to maintain it you will need to do it regularly.
The price list is taped to the counter. It lists their various beds and their costs per minute. There are also packages where you buy a lump sum of minutes and use them as need. Little by little they don’t expire. Like the lotions the latter cost more but has more value in the long run. Plus its nice to be able to stop by and not have to whip out any plastic.
I have only used two different beds, but they offer a few more, including spray tan services. The one I stick with is called “passions” its a mid level and mid priced bed. When I earn bonus minutes I indulge in their top of the line bed that graces the front window called the “prestige”. The difference of cost in the two is doubled. Which is ironic considering the use of the latter allows you to stay in the bed for less and earn the same tan as the former. Max time in the “passion” is 15 minutes. Max time in the “prestige” is 10 minutes. My skin allows me to tan longer without getting burn, I usually choose 13 minutes on the former and 8 on the latter.
After paying you are directed to a room. Each door labelled for clear identification. Each room is four walled to about two inches away from the ceiling. It allows for seclusion but not sound proofing. This gap in ceiling enables ventilation and the ability to circulate the hot air produced by multiple beds.
You are given 15 minutes to undress and lotion up before crawling into a bed. Exceed this time and the bed starts without you. It has only happened to me once, when I had difficultly ripping into a package of tanning lotion with my teeth. Metal wall hooks, a clear plastic chair, and a small shelf allow for ease of undressing. On the wall are flyers advertising the benefits of continuous tanning, the right lotion usage, the packages they offer, and their free wifi. Another sign cautions on the required use of goggles.
I prefer to go in naked for an even tan, but for that beach look, come in your bathing suit. Though being naked in the “sun” is a pretty amazing feeling, one that you aren’t often able to indulge in. Each bed is sanitized and indicated as such with a sign so you need not worry about hygiene. A face cloth is available for use. Most common as a shield for one’s face if it gets too hot. I however use it to wipe the bed’s surface down after my time. I find it uneasy that my body’s greasy print is left on the glass surface and you can make out the shape of my buttocks.
After you climb in, lay down, pull the lid down in place so that you are sandwiched between two sheets of glass you can begin. With goggles on you push start button. The lights hum, and a fan turns on to ensure the bed doesn’t over heat. Depending on the bed you are given you have options for fans cooling your body, the type of music that plays from the speaker by your head, and intensity of heat between face and body. Truthfully I do not tamper with most.
Some machines are ergodynamic and contour to your body’s form. Some allow you to plug in your music providing a cord. Others require you to bring your own head phones and aux jack. Some have full body air conditioning. Others only two fans directed to your face and chest. And worst is just a portable plug in fan blowing by your feet. You definitely pay more to get more.
When done the lights shut off and the machine goes to cool down mode. You are able to remove your eyewear without fear. Their is an anti static spray offered to help you get back into your clothes. When dressed you walk out, leave your bottle and glasses with the clerk and go about the rest of your day. Done.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
This is definitely and indulgence that requires continuous upkeep. Not just a do one and done sort of thing, but maybe once a week to keep a certain hue. I myself do it as needed, often doing so to hide the scar of a pimple I couldn’t help but pop.
If you are not looking for the commitment of a monthly fee, nor need to feel like you are getting your money’s worth, you can have this as an “if I can afford it” treat. I suggest just dropping in. Purchase goggles for $5 and with one of their budget beds at an average amount of time, with a one time use packet of lotion, you are looking at a little over $20. Affordable. Manageable if you want to upkeep once a month or to save as a splurge on special occasions. Don’t deny yourself.
4451 Lougheed Hwy, Burnaby BC, V5C3Z2