TRIED AND TESTED | Ortanic airbrush tan

I HAVE a secret to share... until April 2011, I'd never had a spray tan.

Not one.

Poor little old me, right?

For a beauty writer, though, to admit that is like a chef to admit they've never scrambled an egg. It's a somewhat (in context, people) embarrassing confession.

But there's a reason for my shying away from such activities.

How many women just looked plain orange after a spray tan? Most. Even the ones with all the money in the world to spend on the most expensive faux tans.

Even when faded down to a more natural hue, there's always a hint of Tango.

Plus, it's expensive. Um, there are plenty other things I'm happy to spend 40 quid on... per week.

And, for that wad of ten pound notes or ten dollar bills, you get a slightly neon color that last only days, making it more expensive than that gym membership you don't ever use. If you do it every week, that's a couple thousand quid down the drain.

And I've heard time and again about the horrors of the patchiness that comes with the fading process. I already have a hard enough time looking put together on a daily basis and don't need big brown patches on my legs and chest, like a bipedal Jersey cow, to make getting ready even more of a process. 

But... last month I had a wedding to attend in Cancun.

This time I wasn't going to be the ghostly pale girl in a bikini, garnering looks of pity, amid a sea of caramel-coloured hard bodies. The thing is, I do tan, but I'm never in the bleeding sun long enough to do so anymore! I longingly look at pictures from my youth sometimes, where I'm a shade of brown no helicopter parent would ever let their children achieve nowadays.

In my adult life, I'd never openly cared about being pale in a bathing suit. Sure I'd feel a twinge of jealously when a gaggle of tan girls would saunter by on the beach in Hvar or some exotic friend would seem to turn an even more exotic brown from just 20 minutes in the sun. But that twinge, I figured, was just part of being a girl (and human), so I never really caved.

This trip my vanity won out and I was ready to fake a bronzed glow for the sake of suddenly needy ego.

And, to be honest, my curiosity just sort of got the best of me. Here's this thing that I am constantly hearing about, talking about, analyzing, etc. and I'd just mentally circled the idea of fake tanning like a cautious animal. I was ready to pounce.

So I researched and researched some more. Because lord knows I wasn't sitting in the sun to develop a real tan (not that there is any sun in Chicago in April or May).

Two real options cropped up -- Mystic Tan or Ortanic. Ortanic being new, offering a $10 savings for first timers and having piles of rave reviews I decided to give it a go.

Plus, it was next to Whole Foods and I needed to do a shop.


At the moment, Ortanic is, surprisingly, only in Chicago -- not a city known for being a beauty trendsetter or hub for that matter.

It's housed in various FFC gyms and each location has it's own, secluded room with heat lamps, ventilated booths, a no-nonsense, hand-held airbrush system, full length mirror and dozens of bottles of color (to be hand mixed by your technician).

Lauren was the technician I had that day, and boy I was glad I did. Turns out she's a trained makeup artist and avid Ortanic fan, so she was a dab hand at application and able to custom mix a shade for me based on where I was going, my natural skin tone and what I wanted (to look like I'd already been in Mexico for two weeks).

I stripped bare, although some women (and men, although I bet less so with the latter) bewilderingly leave on underwear. Seriously, girls, just take it all off. Do you really want panty lines included with your faux tan? Save the modesty for somewhere else.

You stand in the both while the technician hooks up your color to the airbrush. Then, arms out, she paints each section of your body (front, back, left side, right side, face, feet, sides of hands) methodically so that you end up with super even color everywhere.

The product smells nice and I didn't feel the least bit asphyxiated during the process.

From start to finish it might have taken 10 minutes and I was able to put on my clothes and go. There is only the gentlest of a cross sell on one of their DIY tan extender products, and she was very quick to let it go when I said no thank you.

Throughout the day, the product they applied deepened in color (I had it done at noon). It is visible when they spray it on, so be forewarned that you will look a bit like Magda from Something About Mary (as one of my sister's so charitably pointed out) while it develops. Most girls, it seems, get it done in the evening and then go straight home so they can sleep in it and shower in the morning.

If you can't do that, simply suck it up and rock a deep bronze for 8 to 10 hours, after which you can wash it off, revealing a super even, very natural (and brown, not orange) tan.

While you wait out those 8 to 10 hours you do have to be careful not to sweat or get your skin wet too.

Lauren advised to avoid very hot water (so hot showers, hot tubs, etc.) and moisturize like mad to maintain a good tan as long as possible.

Even though I went diving once in the sea before the wedding, the tan stayed up, possibly thanks to my religious moisturizing, aversion to hot water and hyper-quick showers.

My airbrush tan was, by far and away, the best accessory I brought with me to Mexico.


Great, natural color, quick, lasts for 5 days, fades evenly, technicians with experience, custom-mixed color, very few ingredients, didn't smell terrible...


Magda-esque bronze you sport for 8 to 10 hours after it's done, too pricey to have done every week, lasts for 3 to 5 days not 7 to 10, only available in Chicago... and this last one: the name implies the product is organic BUT there's no indication or outright statement saying as much. They also utilize a lot of green on the website (images of trees, leaves, etc.), which isn't super honest use of imagery if the formula isn't, indeed, 'green' or organic.


Ortanic is available at FFC Chicago locations for $47 (bulk discounts available).