The Woman With The Golden Gun: My Afternoon With A Celebrity Spray Tan Artist

Our foray into the dark world of celebrity skin-bronzing

Who is Justin Bieber's homeopath? Who tells Emma Roberts her future? Who spray-tans Britney Spears? Welcome to the second installment of "...To the Stars," the series that explores the world of celebrity services.

Back in April, I interviewed and subjected myself to celebrity tarot-card reader Angie Banicki, who informed me that I was a spiritual guru in the making, a Gandhi meets L. Ron Hubbard type who was destined to either lead the masses to salvation or convince legions of innocents to swill poisoned Kool-Aid. Emboldened by this exciting information, I decided to start a series called "...To the Stars," through which I'll interview all manner of celebrity-adjacent people: celebrity dog walkers, celebrity doctors, celebrity assistants, celebrity dog assistants, etc. I'll harangue them relentlessly for (anonymous, if necessary) gossip about their clients, pretend I am extremely famous by partaking in their services, and report back on whether either endeavor was worth it.

My second "...To the Stars" subject is Katrina Brown, an aptly named celebrity spray-tanner and wildly elegant Australian person. Katrina owns two high-end tanning salons Down Under, but relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago after hopping back and forth for a while. Her roster of celeb clientele is impressive, if random: Denise Richards, Nicole Scherzinger, Sarah Hyland, a slew of Real Housewives (Joanna Krupa, Brandi Glanville, Gretchen Rossi), and Janice Dickinson, among others. My personal spray-tan experience with Katrina was dramatic on a Shakespearean level, full of hairpin turns and elaborate visual metaphor. Without further ado, I present it to you here:

Monday:

11 a.m.: I arrive in Los Angeles, ostensibly to do a few interviews (including one with Maika Monroe) but actually to hang out with my MTV L.A. coworkers and troll the Paramount lot for recognizable TV talent. Upon landing, I receive an email from my spiritual lobbyist, Angie, asking me if I'd like to meet with a few of her celebrity-serving friends. One of them is Katrina, whom Angie describes as a "wonderful soul." I say yes immediately, then just as immediately force my editor, Leah, to join me in chemically altering her skin tone. She has never had a spray tan before; I had had a few janky-ass sprays before high school dances. We schedule our appointments for Tuesday afternoon.

3 p.m.: Katrina explains to us over email that we have no time to waste, that the spray-tan process must begin immediately if our skin is to reach its maximum faux-bronzed potential. "Is it possible to exfoliate and have a shower with no moisturizer on?" she writes. Leah and I agree that this is, technically, possible, but that moving about the world with unmoisturized flesh sounds horrific. After much deliberation, we acquiesce to these terms. "Do you need a body scrub?" asks Katrina. We do.

5 p.m.: Leah and I are drinking margaritas across the street from our office. We are waiting for Katrina, who generously insisted on hand-delivering what she refers to as a "coffee scrub." We are two margaritas in when Katrina shows up, dressed in the sort of impeccable athleisurewear accessible only to the very famous or the very fit. Even in workout attire, she emanates the dramatic glamour of her beloved Real Housewives. Her skin is copper, her eyes sapphire, her hair regular brown. I am wearing Doc Martens and leggings and have not showered since getting off my six-hour transcontinental flight. I take a long, powerful drink of my margarita.

Katrina hands me the coffee scrub — which appears innocent enough in its adorable khaki packaging, but will soon represent my undoing — and looks sorrowfully at Leah. "There was only one left," she explains. Sorry, Leah. Katrina instructs me to use the scrub in the shower that very night in order to rid my body of dead skin and emerge in my rawest form. Leah's rotting flesh will have to suffice.

9 p.m.: I am in the shower at my terrifying, American Horror Story–esque hotel, whose design scheme I can only describe as "purposefully slutty." There is a stripper pole in my kitchen and a cadre of dead butterflies mounted on a blood-red wall over my bed. I am certain that Lady Gaga, whose haunting doppelgänger looms at the end of my Shining-esque hallway, will fuck me to death over the course of my stay.

The bathroom is cavernous, doorless, and includes, inexplicably, a hallway. The shower itself is black, but the accoutrements — the bath mat, the towels, the shower curtain — are white. This will be important.

I am staring down the coffee scrub, which is called, in an extremely stretched and diluted pun, "Nobody But Joe." It's made with almond and avocado oils, sea salt, aloe vera, and, of course, coffee; its package informs me that it will eliminate cellulite, stretch marks, dry skin, and my enemies. I scoop out a handful of what appears to just be ... granular coffee grounds? I begin to coat my body with them.

Within moments, I am trapped in a coffee-stained prison of my own design. Somehow, the scrub has broken free of my body and coated every single white surface in my vicinity. When wet, the granules become more viscous; as such, there are dark brown stains all over the shower curtain, the white bath mat, the white towels that are stacked — WHY? — inside the shower. To the naked, uninformed eye, it would appear that I have had a historically unmatched excremental explosion.

Each time I frantically attempt to clean a coffee stain, my body sullies the adjacent space. I scrub a towel with another towel, and though the first towel is saved, the second towel is now ruined. I pull the bath mat into the shower and place it directly beneath the water. Rivulets of brown stream violently into the drain. I hang the bath mat over the shower head to dry, then step carefully out of the shower onto a fresh towel, but realize I now have coffee grounds all over the bottom of my feet and have ruined yet another towel. I walk back in to rinse them again, but the bath mat is obscuring the shower head. I remove it, accidentally coating it in coffee again. I scream into the abyss.

After several hours of Sartre-esque madness, I am finally free. The bathroom is soaking wet, yellow-stained bathing implements hanging from every possible corner. After carefully inspecting it for offending remnants, I drag my exhausted body to the bed, trying and failing to imagine Brandi Glanville in this exact situation. I realize, as I drift into an unsettled sleep, that my skin is softer than it has ever been in my life.

Tuesday:

10 a.m.–2 p.m.: I get extremely lost on the Paramount lot (where our MTV News office is temporarily located) and do not see anyone famous. I make everyone in the office feel my skin. Many of us have just met.

3 p.m.: Leah and I arrive at Society Salon, the schmancy setting where Katrina is to spray-tan us both. I volunteer to go first, continuing my pattern of screwing over Leah, who is still sporting last week's skin. Katrina pulls me into a small private room and tells me to undress. "Would you like to wear a disposable G-string?" she asks. I would.

The G-string looks sort of like a black, poufy, sexy diaper. I stand otherwise naked before Katrina, a total stranger, but do not feel remotely weird about this, which is a credit both to her easy manner and my own complete lack of shame. She helps me put a shower cap over my head to protect my hair from ... something. She has nose plugs in, and I ask why. She mumbles something to do with breathing in chemicals all day. Absent nose plugs, I try not to think very hard about this. "At least my hair is protected," I murmur by way of comforting myself. It is important to note that Katrina still appears very glamorous in nose plugs.

Katrina asks me how dark I'd like to be, and I go with "medium," which seems safe but also brave. She begins to coat my silken flesh in a custom spray-tan mixture that she has put together spontaneously upon my arrival, and that will cost MTV $70, or 4.38 life-ruining coffee scrubs. The spray-tan machine is so loud that I can hardly hear her instructions, which are, essentially, "Hold your breath and put your naked body in a very awkward position so that I can spray colored chemicals all over it." She asks me if I would like "contouring." I would. I begin to have visions of myself standing on a beach, passersby gawking at my sharply cut abs. Is that how you describe good abs?

As she sprays me, I begin to ask her questions. It is one of the most difficult interviews I have done, in part because I am holding my breath during half of it. I ask her why she thinks celebrities flock to her. She says it's because she treats them normally and establishes a "rapport." "I'm friends with a lot of my celebrity clients," she explains. "A lot of celebrities need to be guarded, because people have had bad things happen. Just being open and nice and genuine, they pick up on that. I'm really comfortable, which makes them feel comfortable as soon as they're naked." As I am literally doing my job in front of her while naked, I can confirm this.

I press her to reveal her most divaesque client, but she won't admit to having one. She does, however, tell me a horror story about a male celebrity who was "on a big reality TV show and was very sexually inappropriate with me." I ask her to elaborate. "He pulled out his dick and asked me to do things, and I was like, 'OK, I need to go,'" she says, impressively managing to laugh wryly about this demon. "He was referred through other people in the cast of his show, so I didn't anticipate that. That was my first six months here. I was like, 'Oh my god, is this what Hollywood is like?'" Fortunately, Katrina explains, this was her only terrible experience; the only other negative story she shares is one of a female client who often keeps her waiting for hours. Katrina cannily solved this by charging her hourly.

Katrina and I conclude our interview outside of the spray-tan room so that I can breathe while we speak. I look fucking great — bronzed, contoured to the point of near-tragic thinness, immortal. I ask Katrina if she feels she has a lot of celebrity spray-tan competition. "Not really," she says. "I think there's a lot of tanners, but also a lot of orange." I wonder if there's any celebrity who she doesn't tan, but whom she desperately wishes she could save from living an unnecessarily orange-skinned life. "Giuliana Rancic," she says, without missing a beat. "I even commented [on Instagram] that she looked so orange at one of the awards shows. She sometimes gets it so wrong and she's so beautiful. I'd love to fix it."

I am distracted by my own neck in the mirror, which has a single, pale line in the middle of it, revealing my true, stark whiteness and reminding me that one day, I will in fact die. Katrina graciously agrees to re-spray my neck, then set it with baby powder. Katrina is my best friend, which means I am only a few degrees of best friend away from Brandi Glanville.

3:30 p.m.: Leah gets her spray tan. What occurs inside the spray-tan room is between Leah, Katrina, and Jesus Christ.

4 p.m.: Leah and I compare spray tans. We agree that we both look like we have just taken a very luxe vacation with thousands of famous people. We cannot stop staring at ourselves in the salon mirrors. A beautiful woman named Sam who owns the salon accurately detects our vanity and, within minutes, has sold us over $100 worth of hair products.

As we depart, Katrina instructs both of us not to sweat or shower until much later that evening. We nod in understanding and thank Katrina for turning us into Roman deities.

5 p.m.: Leah and I are sweating profusely as we walk her dog up a series of giant hills. We have arrogantly defied Katrina, but there is no immediate consequence, no visible effect on our tans. Empowered by our own hubris, Leah and I sit outside on her patio and sip Chardonnay, perspiring freely beneath the Los Angeles sun.

7 p.m.: At a work dinner, Leah and I are complimented on our gorgeous tans by all of our female colleagues after we ask them, "Do you like our gorgeous tans?" We pull said female colleagues into the bathroom to show them our butts. The G-string diaper tan is something to behold. "You look like you have fallopian tubes on your butt," says Holly, who is a poetic genius. Below is Holly's cocktail-napkin rendering of said butt tan.

9 p.m.: Back at the sex-murder hotel, I strip off my clothes to examine the rest of my body. The sweaty walk was clearly a fatal error. I text Leah a photo of my feet, which are swollen (?) and mottled in orange and brown, appearing as if they have been infected by some rare and incurable tropical disease.

Privately, I examine my stomach, which is a lovely shade of gold, save for the crusty black line that winds around my midsection, where the tanning formula has collected and hardened. I get into the shower, and this excess tan beads off me like paint. I walk out of the shower and do a repeat but edited-for-time performance of Monday evening's tragic opera.

I text Leah and inform her to wash herself, lest she destroy her entire home. She thanks me for this advice. "I showed [my boyfriend] my butt tan and he thinks I look like a '90s LA porn star :/ ," she adds.

Wednesday:

9 a.m.: My tan has settled and is mostly looking good, except for a giant, uneven sploosh on my neck. I scrub this off with the towels I have already destroyed.

10 a.m.: Leah sends me an alarming text: "My butt tan is basically gone." I run to the bathroom to examine my own butt tan. It is basically gone.

1 p.m.: Leah and I walk to lunch, complaining about our tans all the way. I have white spots under my boobs. Leah has lines across her legs. We have nobody to blame but ourselves and Leah's dog.

2 p.m.: I pass by Zach Braff on the Paramount lot. We exchange what my coworkers agree are sexually charged glances. I know it is because of my tan. Celebrity spray tans attract celebrities. Let it be known.

3:24 p.m.: Fortified by my tan, I tweet "lookin good today boo 😎😎" at Zach Braff. He likes the tweet but we will not interact again until my next tan.

5 p.m.: It's been a day marked by extremes. Each time I go to the bathroom I discover a new area of my skin that looks like someone has shit all over it. My face has reverted to its standard corpse-like pallor. My bikini line is absolute fucking chaos. Despite my brush with almost marrying Zach Braff, Leah and I go home separately, too depressed to drink.

6 p.m.: Back at my hotel, I look at myself in the mirror and realize that, somehow, by some unholy miracle, my face tan has reappeared. I again have the burnished glow of a rosé-chugging Housewife. I excitedly pull out my phone. "Suddenly I think I am tanner," I write to Leah. "RACHEL," she texts back, almost instantly. "I literally just pulled out my phone to text you. I think I like my tan."

I decide that, on the whole, I also like my tan. I ignore my stomach and my boobs and bikini line, which are still extremely fucked-up-looking.

11 p.m.: After hours of scrubbing my towels with other towels and obscuring brown stains with strategically placed bathroom accessories, I text Leah to confirm that this entire experience has been an unmitigated roller coaster of emotions: Over the course of just three days, I've felt excitement, fear, vanity, power, shame, lust, dread, anger, horror, depression, muted acceptance, and, eventually, trepidatious joy. Leah is like, "Yeah, same." Finally comfortable with the various shades of my flesh and of my bath mat, I fall into heavy, golden-hued slumber, awakening only in the early hours of the dawn, when I am fucked to death by Lady Gaga. Guess she really loved my tan.