A skin-trauma detector may persuade you to throw in the beach towel
Here's my dirty little secret: I love the sun. A lot. In fact, I've spent the better part of the past two decades in pursuit of the perfect tan. I'm completely and unabashedly addicted to that feeling of the sun sinking into my skin, the moment when my arms get warm to the touch and I know I'm going to glow that night. There's nothing like it. No booth, lotion, gel or spray can replicate it. I've tried them all in moments of desperate paleness and rational thought, but nine times out of ten, I head to the beach with a towel, bikini and scandalously low-SPF lotion the first chance I get.
This is why it was with extreme anxiety I headed to the Tiffani Kim Institute (310 W Superior St between Orleans and Franklin Sts, 312-260-9020) for a skin-age test, complimentary with a spa appointment. Meet the beauty industry's favorite new tool and my worst nightmare: the VISIA Complexion Analysis System. The 15-inch-high, egg-shaped device takes a digital picture of your profile, measures your wrinkles, spots, pores, evenness, porphyrins (bacteria count) and UV spots, and compares the results against thousands of other people of your age, gender and skin type (the machine comes with a 3,500-person database). Think of it as a nationwide dermatological bell curve.
Aestheticians call it a wonderful educational tool. Right. Rationally, I know it's a good thing to identify any medical or cosmetic red flags, that I really should take better care of my skin, that I'll care very much about these things 20 years from now when my cheeks are a saggy pool of wrinkles. But right now, at 26, I was living in blissful self-imposed ignorance—until now. The VISIA and Molly Dieterman, Tiffani Kim's medical aesthetician, put an end to all that in about 20 minutes.
I nervously entered a closet-size room and sat down on a tall wooden stool. Dieterman wiped the left side of my face clean and instructed me to stick my head in the machine, close my eyes and hold still for 60 seconds. A few quiet hums and a single flash later, it was over.
Next thing I know, I'm staring at a giant image of the left side of my face on a flat-panel monitor. Dieterman zooms in on the area between the outer edge of my eye and my jaw line and clicks her mouse a few times, and we're in bell-curve business. The next screen features six miniature pictures of the left side of my face—each with different-colored spots and/or lines. Underneath each picture is a word and a number: spots (68), pores (305), porphyrins (0) and so on. I'm completely mesmerized by the technology—a machine that can count and identify each spot on my face with a tiny yellow circle!—that I forget that it's probably not a good thing to have 68 spots on just the left side of my face. Or 305 pores, 640 evenness marks and 74 UV spots.
I thought four wrinkles was pretty good until Molly clicks to the next page and informs me that 78 percent of women my age with my skin tone have fewer—ouch! Three of the buggers are just below my left eye. What goes on at my left eye? I sit there obsessing over my wrinkle count while Dieterman attempts to soften the blow with positive news about my other scores. I'm about average with my evenness, spot and pore counts, and my porphyrin count of zero is excellent. So the good news is I have no bacteria on the left side of my face. The bad news is I'm a wrinkled mess waiting to happen.
I take it pretty hard, but Dieterman doesn't stop there. My next big problem is UV spots. While my numbers are okay for now, she can see the writing on the tanning-booth wall. My wrinkles are not a coincidence, nor are those 68 spots. But it's not all doom and gloom. Because wrinkles are most often caused by dryness, sun damage and repetitive motion, I can take action that will produce noticeable results. I'm to wear sunscreen at all times, sport a hat when I'm outside for extended periods of time and give up competitive tanning. She also recommends I immediately begin getting hydrating facials every four to six weeks to nourish and moisturize my skin, as well as a chemical peel every six weeks to remove the top layer of dead skin. Suddenly it's clear why the VISIA is a useful sales tool. I would have signed up for just about anything at the moment. Dieterman swears most clients expect the worst, but the majority of people have average numbers. And, of course, there's the occasional pleasant surprise: "We had an 85-year-old woman in here the other day who found out she had the skin of a 70-year-old. She couldn't stop smiling."
As for me, I left neither smiling nor frowning (who's going to take a chance on frown lines?), but with renewed dedication and appreciation for moisturizing, sun protection and fake baking. Being pale for the rest of my life is not an option, so if I have to cut back on my sun time, I'm going to have to find some alternatives. Here are the best of the UV-free fake-bakers:
For the lazy
A wise person once said, why do anything yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you? In the spirit of laziness and summer bonuses, these are a few of our favorite faux-tan spa treatments.
St. Tropez tan: A body scrub, with benefits. Part full-body exfoliation, part rubdown with time-released self-tanning lotion. You'll glow about eight hours later and for five to seven days following. 45mins, $65. Kaya Day Spa, 112 N May St between Randolph St and Washington Blvd (312-243-5292).
Air-brush tanning: Not for the modest. It's you, an aesthetician and a bronzer-loaded airbrush gun. The trade-off for nudity with a stranger? Strategic body sculpting. Hello, cleavage. 45mins, $50. Spacio, 2706 N Halsted St at Schubert Ave (773-244-6500).
Mystic Tan: Stand in a booth, spread eagle and close your eyes as strategically placed nozzles douse you with bronzing spray. 1 min, $25. Palm Beach Tan, 2000 N Clybourn Ave between Dickens Ave and Cortland St (773-935-9254).
For the planners
Good tans will come to those who wait. Diligent daily applications of these time-release lotions will result in a deep tan.
Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer: Standard lotion, odorless and easy to apply. $5.99 at drugstores.
Tantowel Plus: Individually wrapped tanning packets—like Wet Naps for the UV savvy. $24 for a pack of ten at Sephora Northbridge, 520 N Michigan Ave, suite 129, between Grand Ave and Illinois St (312-494-9598), or www.tantowel.com.
For the procrastinators
Any pale-legged person who's pulled a white skirt out of the closet two hours before showtime knows there's nothing like instant satisfaction. These selections provide no-wait glow:
Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Makeup Palette: For the paint-it-on crew. Bronzing powder, eye shadows and lip shimmer. $68 at Saks Fifth Avenue, 700 N Michigan Ave between Huron and Erie Sts (312-494-9598).
Benefit Jiffy Tan: Sweet-smelling, slightly shimmery, caramel-brown moisturizer. $22 at www.sephora.com.