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Get your glow on

Organic tanning at Atlanta's RAW

I was standing in front of a stranger in my underwear and had one question: “What if I open my mouth and eat it?”

Angela gave me a quizzical smile, perhaps wondering if she’d misheard me because of the Hoover-like hum of her spray-tan pump and the fans buzzing on the back wall.

“Well,” she said, “our bronzing formula is made with lemons, and the tanning ingredient is sort of like the stuff you see when an apple turns brown. So getting it in your mouth wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say you should drink it.”

Then she giggled and resumed spraying my pale skin, sweeping the lemon-scented mist back and forth, turning me a more perfect golden-brown.

I was at RAW Organic Bronzing Studio in Inman Park, a salon that offers no harmful rays and none of the stinky, sticky, orange-y vapors found at most other spray-tanning places. The formula at RAW is 100% natural.

Todd and Tiffany Teranova founded the business in 2011 in Inman Park after she survived melanoma. Tiffany, formerly a costume designer for Sugarland, had been a devout sun worshiper.

That’s not me, really, though as a kid I spent plenty of summers "down the shore" in New Jersey, baking from morning until the sun dropped low and it was time to play Wiffle Ball in the sand. But in recent years, as I’ve gotten older and wiser (and more vain about wrinkles), I’ve wised up and tried to rely more on self-tanners for an occasional and healthier glow.

My first try at a spray-tan, a month before my wedding, left me looking like a tangerine. So I was somewhat wary when I stepped behind a curtain into a private room at RAW. Never mind that I was required to stand in a well-lit room in nothing but my skivvies.

But Angela put me right at ease as she sprayed me from top to toe with a product that had none of the chemical smell I’d expected. Within ten minutes, the application was done. She left the room while I dried off in front of a floor fan, and then I dressed—in loose clothing, armed with detailed instructions on how to keep the tan from smearing or fading—and was on my way.

Though I did end up with the typical “dirty feet” look from the tanner collecting in dry spots, I otherwise had a natural-looking glow that lasted about a week, as advertised. (Somebody called me "radiant." No need to tell him my radiance cost $35.)

I spoke with Tiffany, to learn more about why she got into the spray-tan business and how RAW is different. (Note: The salon is moving to an as-yet-unnamed Midtown location soon; the plaza in Inman Park is closing for redevelopment.)

When did your love affair with the sun and tanning begin?
By the time I was in middle school, laying out every afternoon was a regular part of my day. Being extremely fair-skinned, I felt I needed to work a little harder to get ‘color,’ which meant staying in the sun as long as possible with little to no sunscreen.

By college, I started going to the tanning bed before events. It felt harmless, especially considering everyone I knew was doing the same thing, until I started noticing new freckles, new moles, and the texture of my skin changing significantly. I knew about the dangers of skin cancer but thought it was something that only affected older people. I had no idea of the immediate harm I was causing myself or that it could kill me before the age of 30.

How did you discover you had melanoma?
After a lifetime of sunburns and a history of tanning beds, I finally decided to go to the dermatologist for a checkup. It had been in the back of my mind for years, but I was afraid of what I might hear so I put it off until I couldn’t justify it anymore. At 27 years old, that appointment saved my life. After ten biopsies and a serious dermatologist warning, I knew my relationship with the sun had to change. There was one spot in particular that concerned her. I could see it on her face but hoped for the best. She sent me on my way to wait for the results.

Two days later I got the call from the doctor and was told one of the biopsies was malignant cancer. I had Stage II Melanoma and needed surgery immediately. If I would’ve waited another six months or a year to go to the doctor, I wouldn’t be here. Melanoma has a very high survival rate, but only when detected early. Following the surgery, I went back for checkups every three months until I passed the five year mark and will now continue to get checkups every six months for the rest of my life.

How did your lifestyle change after you survived melanoma?
The last thing anyone wants to hear is the ‘C word’–especially at 27 years old. Needless to say, my lifestyle changed dramatically. Not only did I start wearing sunscreen daily, I knew that I would never again be the girl laying on the beach for hours or going to a tanning bed a couple times before a trip for a ‘base tan.’ More importantly, it marked a time in my life when I became conscious of every lifestyle decision, from learning about the ingredients in the beauty products I was using to the food I was consuming. I felt waves of guilt over the next few years that I chose vanity over my health and ignored sound advice on avoiding skin cancer. I decided to become more proactive in following a healthier way of life.

Did you try a lot of different types of spray tan? What didn't you like about them?
Considering I could never soak up the sun again, I knew I had to accept my fair skin and find an alternative. I began trying every sunless tanning product on the market but was always disappointed. Even if I found a product that resulted in a natural looking color, I was constantly disgusted with the smell and the long list ingredient lists full of chemical preservatives and parabens.

When I discovered spray tans, the same issues kept coming up, except worse. Another issue was the cost; I’ve paid up to $125 for a single session. I knew there had to be a better way.

What’s your organic formula? And in what other ways is RAW different?
It’s alcohol-free, odor-free, paraben-free and works on all skin types. Instead of traditional chemical preservatives, it contains organic white tea extract, organic grapefruit seed extract and organic aloe vera.

Each service room is fully ventilated, meaning that our clients and our Bronzing Specialists are not inhaling any overspray or solution in the air. This is also the reason we do not offer mobile services. A small pop-up tent or shower stall does not allow for adequate ventilation, leaving clients and technicians to breathe in overspray.

We believe that the only way people will get out of the sun or tanning beds is to perfect the process of a spray tan while making it affordable. We based our pricing model similar to a mani/pedi at $35 a session. We wanted it to be something people could do a couple times a month, if needed, and not just for a special occasion. We’ve simplified the process to a 20-minute appointment time without sacrificing service.