Merope Mills on Fantasy Tan

Like many tan-seekers before me, my exhaustive research into how to get a healthy tan through healthy means has so far proved unsuccessful. I am too nervy to sit out in the sun or use sunbeds and too lazy for fake tan. In fact, I can only admire fake-tanners happy to set aside a good couple of hours exfoliating, moisturising, drying and applying in the hope of an even, chesnutty spread.

So I am expecting the Fantasy Tan to let me down (and how could it not with a name like that?). To be worthy of such a title, this would have to be a pretty spectacular tan - safe, effortless and convincing - and doesn't everybody know it's impossible to have all three? No, if you are in search of a suntan, it's inevitably a toss-up between vanity and health.

Yet the Fantasy Tan, introduced to Britain from America this summer, promises otherwise. An airbrush treatment that supplies sunless tanner not as a lotion but as a spray, it pledges a safe UV-free treatment that doesn't streak. From the point of view of a pasty-faced English girl, this simply sounds too good to be true.

In a small studio at Saks health and beauty club in central London, Sian explains the process to me. Stripped down to underwear (this treatment is not for the bashful) you stand on a floor covering while you are spray-painted a healthy sun-kissed brown. You are expected to exfoliate and moisturise the day before, but other than that, you simply stand there while someone air-brushes you with the "sun-spray".

From the recipient's point of view it is truly effortless. Sian gets to work, studying and working on me like a sculpture in need of a touch-up. While the smell is pretty inoffensive, after 20 minutes of continuous spray in a small room you do start feeling like you're being gassed, especially when they get to work directly on your face.

For it to be effective really requires two sessions and the drawback is that it's not cheap. It costs £40 for the base and top coat, which together last between three and seven days (weekly top-ups cost £25). All sessions still require the patience of self-application fake tan since you can't sit or dress for 15 minutes afterwards, and still you have to be mindful of your clothes.

After only the base session I had a healthy glow and a distinctive strapline, and with the top coat the colour was definitely noticeable. Most people testified to its natural look and one colleague, who had delighted at the prospect of me turning tangerine, was displaying her own impressive shade of green when she saw the results. But while my flatmates said I was more tanned than when I'd returned from holiday a few weeks before, there was an alarming moment when I watched the water run red with my first post-treatment shower as the top layer of my beautiful new tan disappeared down the plughole. After about five days, the fantasy also began fading through a pretty unattractive peel, but I guess that just added to the authenticity of the package.

Nonetheless, this is a healthier option for the 3m people who use sunbeds every year (and the millions more who yet off to sun-worship overseas). The active ingredient in Fantasy Tan is DHA, which causes a chemical reaction with the amino acids in the top layer of the skin. DHA is government approved and has been used for more than 30 years without any harmful effects reported.

It's early days, but from the health-conscious consumer's point of view, this may well be the stuff that tanners' fantasies are made of.

• For details of salons offering Fantasy Tans, telephone: 01563 545 881

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