$9.95 airbrush tan left an orange tint

My carefree days in the summer sun came to an abrupt end 20 years ago when I ventured out to a rocky beach in Massachusetts and spent an entire day under the rays with no shirt, no hat and no lotion.

I thought I might get a little tan for my efforts. What I got, from the top of my forehead to the tips of my toes, was an ultraviolet overload that left my skin a painful, peeling, pink mess. Even my tongue went dry.


Ever since, it's been SPF 30 sunscreen for me.

And I'm not alone. Skin cancer fears have driven millions under the umbrellas and long ago turned suntan lotion into sunscreen lotion.


Ah, but vanity finds a way.

And now, it has found its way into infomercials.

Airbrushed tans, applied in pricey salons, have become de rigueur with Hollywood celebrities who don't have to watch their pennies.

But inexpensive home versions have hit the market, and several are sold on television. After 20 years, maybe it's time to get a little color again.

I tried a product called Calypso Tan, a coconut-scented airbrush tanning system that promises a "sun-free, natural-looking tropical tan" that lasts as long as a week -- all for $9.95.

That sounds like a real bargain. But in four tests, I came away with frustratingly inconsistent results: One test came out well, but one was too orange, one was too pale and one left embarrassing streaks.

With that variety, I suspect that getting a uniform tan with Calypso Tan requires a lot of trial and error -- which can mean a lot of weeks with some funky-looking skin.

Still, Calypso Tan performed far better than I expected.


I first tried the spray on the inside of one forearm, but was generally unimpressed with the coloring -- when I finally saw the coloring.

The box crows that it takes just "minutes" to cover skin in a fine mist. But the fine print inside says it takes two or three hours for the tan to show up. I found that it took at least 12 hours.

When the coloring did come in, it had that unappealing orange tint that hampered early sunless tanners. A second test on part of one leg barely yielded a color change, and left me wondering why the directions offer so little advice on how much to spray.

I was disheartened. But I wasn't ready to give up.

I decided I needed a larger canvas, and somehow talked my wife into letting me spray her entire back.

The next day, success was ours, as her back sported a uniform and rich tan that looked remarkably natural.


We did, however, see streaks of dark skin on her side where the spray had dripped. I had a similar experience when I sprayed one of my thighs and could feel the liquid running down my leg -- an uncomfortable sensation, as I was trying to keep my experiments to areas most likely to be covered by clothes.

Those drips ended up producing the darkest tones, giving me a noticeably striped leg that will keep me in long pants for a while.

That streaking might have been less of an issue if I were boldly going for a head-to-toe tan. But it illustrates why products such as Calypso Tan are distant runners-up to professional airbrush systems, which use far higher air pressure and are capable of delivering a nearly dry mist that stays put.

Calypso Tan builds air pressure through hand-pumping the cap, but the result is really indistinguishable from a typical, drip-prone spray can. As my multihued leg can attest, that's a real drawback.

It's also one reason no one in my family was brave enough to try Calypso Tan on our faces.

The science behind Calypso Tan is solid -- it uses a well-known chemical that reacts with amino acids in skin cells.


And with plenty of practice, you might get beyond the application missteps and score yourself a bargain tan.

Still, those missteps can be unattractive and long-lasting. So no gold medal for Calypso Tan. Though it might deserve the bronze.

Matthew Kauffman is a columnist for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail him at For a detailed review of Calypso Tan and other products, log onto