Metro-East Living

Trapped in a spray tan booth

Michelle Meehan Schrader shows what it’s like to be stuck in a tanning booth.
Michelle Meehan Schrader shows what it’s like to be stuck in a tanning booth.

Editor’s note: Michelle Meehan Schrader will be writing an occasional feature column for the News-Democrat. You might remember her name. She was an award-winning feature writer for the News-Democrat’s Sunday Magazine from the mid-1980s to 2002. Michelle, mom of college-age son Sam, lives in Smithton with her husband Mark, three dogs and a cat.

Hello, Fourth of July weekend! Women are tanning poolside throughout the metro-east. Me? I’m a burner, not a tanner. Even if I were a tanner, I wouldn’t want to be a wrinkler, so I would still wear sunscreen to protect my skin.

The day I discovered the spray-on tan was the day I died and went to heaven.

Well almost, anyway.

Yes, I am the woman they still talk about at Hollywood Tan in Belleville. The one who got trapped in the spray tan booth — naked with a little disposable hairnet on her head — and endured the booth’s cleaning cycle on her hands and knees before escaping to tell her story.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Never been in a spray tan booth? Let me give you the skinny. It’s like a glass phone booth — if glass phone booths didn’t have phones and pummeled upright bodies with tanning mist sprayed from hidden nozzles.

The mist isn’t approved for human lungs, so many tanners use nose clips or hold their breath while they’re in there — about 45 seconds if you’re keeping track. They also don goggles so they won’t be blinded and little hairnets so their hair won’t turn orange.

If that weren’t enough, there’s the white lotion they slather on their hands, feet and ankles so they don’t get streaks in all the wrong places.

I think you get the picture. Now, let’s fast forward to the end of the session.

Like the Discovery Channel show, I was naked and afraid. The spraying had ended, but there was still a heavy fog in the air. Dizzy from holding my breath, I elbowed the spot where I thought the door handle should be.

It wasn’t.

Panic set in.

I pushed my whole body against the door to no avail. I would have yelled for help but the booth is located inside a locked room. Even if it weren’t, would I really want someone to find me like this?

And that’s when I heard the voice.

“Warning! Warning! Exit the booth NOW. Exit the booth NOW. Cleaning begins in … Five! Four! Three! Two…”

I dropped to my knees in the tornado drill position.


Soapy water pummeled me from all sides. Crouching there in the most pathetic of stances, I fought back sobs as both my spray tan and my dignity circled the drain.

When it was all over, I felt I had nothing to lose.

With the strength of 10 tanners, I threw myself against the stuck door, popping it open and rolling across the floor. I threw on my dress backward and careened out into the hall like the star of my own “I Love Lucy” episode.

“I got locked in there!” I shrieked. “I almost died. I went through the wash cycle!”

The girl at the front desk looked at me like she’d just seen a zombie. No one had ever gotten locked in a spray tan booth, she assured me. To her credit, she never once said, “You’re crazy, lady.” She just led me back to the booth to show me how easily it opens.

“You just tap it right here,” she said, demonstrating. The door flew open as if on command.

“Wait a minute, ma’am. Did you say you just got ‘washed?’”

This part she took very seriously. I left with marching orders to go home and soak in a hot bath before scrubbing my skin with a loofah. If there was any tanning spray left on my body, I’d wind up looking like a zebra.

Better raw than striped.

I wish I could say I never did the spray tan booth thing again. But, hey, I was heading on my first-ever Caribbean cruise the following day. The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. So the next morning, I summoned my courage and headed back for another go round.

This time, I made it through unscathed — with no charge and a lovely fake tan. Call me vain. Call me foolish. But don’t call me pale. At least not in the middle of summer.