In the harsh fluorescent light, the tall, silver contraption gleams almost ominously, resembling some Star Trek space capsule or a time machine on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Gingerly, I step in, realizing that soon, there will be no turning back. The metal door clangs shut. I enter a small chamber, and nozzles all around begin gearing up to hose me down. My eyes are closed and I'm trying not to breathe in the brownish mist that fills the air.
I manage to soldier on without screaming, focusing on the final reward for this discomfort: A glorious, peachy-brown tan.
In the quest for good looks, people long have endured shaving, plucking, exfoliating and waxing. Now, there's a new ordeal in town for the beauty-conscious -- instant spray-tan booths.
"There's thousands of women using these self-tanning lotions and they're very hard to apply," said Rhonda Venuto, spokeswoman for Hollywood Tans, which recently introduced spray-tan booths in its nine Maryland locations. "Some people were going to salons and paying $60 a shot to have people apply it."
The booths basically are chambers the size of shower stalls equipped with nine nozzles that spray people with self-tanning lotion.
It costs $25 each time ($20 for first-timers) and takes just six seconds. In addition to Hollywood Tans, there are 20 Mystic Tan salons in the Baltimore area that offer spray-tanning.
My brave mission? To try one out.
But there is prep-work to be done before a spray-tan.
Hollywood Tans recommends exfoliating before and not wearing any makeup or moisturizer. A call to the Glen Burnie salon the day before my session yields disconcerting information -- a receptionist tells me that I may be sticky for some time after. "Bring old, loose clothing," she warns.
At the salon, before the tanning begins, there is a video to watch. A buxom woman in a bikini appears on screen. She has brilliant white teeth and smiles incessantly. Cheerily, she launches into moves that are a cross between Tai Chi and cheerleading sans pompons.
Apparently, this leg-lifting and arm-flailing is supposed to ensure even spraying. In reality, though, there isn't time for this much movement.
Once the spraying starts, I desperately try to recall the motions, pausing for a moment when I realize I've lifted the wrong leg with my left arm. But just when I've collected myself to resume the flailing, the spraying stops. Six seconds, it turns out, is really not that long.
Within a minute, I've done my best to rub the lotion around the hard-to-reach spots, most of the liquid has been absorbed and I can step outside the chamber. Wet wipes have been set out for me to clean the soles of my feet and my palms and nails so they don't turn brown. And, since my face is dripping slightly, I gently pat it with a towel.
I emerge feeling brave, triumphant and proud that the only mistake I made was forgetting to take off the shower cap before putting my ratty T-shirt on. But, whatever. I can live with the stains.
Then I tell the receptionist about cleaning my face. "You shouldn't have done that," she snaps, carefully inspecting me. "But you should be fine."
And it turns out I am. I don't shower for three hours, as instructed, and the next morning, I wake up looking slightly sun-kissed. All nightmares of resembling Donatella Versace quickly evaporate. Instead, I have a fairly even glow from top to bottom -- well, except for the dark brown patch on my back that I forgot to spread around.
For such mistakes, Holly-wood Tans recommends exfoliating to make the color more even. The salons also sell small instant-tan lotion packets for you to correct any mistakes.
The process may be uncomfortable, but spray-tanning is among the more healthy ways to get dark, experts say.
"You're painting your skin," said Dr. Daniel N. Sauder, chairman of the Johns Hopkins University Department of Dermatology. "Instant tans now are really quite safe. They contain dyes that are generally not harmful and do not cause any significant problems."
It's regular tanning beds that Sauder has a beef with.
"I couldn't be any stronger in my vehemence against tanning beds," said Sauder, who noted that in the U.S., there are more than 1 million cases of the most common form of skin cancer a year, "almost totally related to excess sun exposure."
"Ultraviolet light is a direct carcinogen," he added. "Tanning beds are particularly harmful because they have long wave ultraviolet light that penetrates much deeper."
If you're going to be in the sun, Sauder recommended an SPF 30 sunblock. But if it's color you want on your skin, he strongly suggested using self-tanning lotions or spray-tan booths.
Of course, there are drawbacks to these booths -- especially if you're not careful.
The night after my spray-tan, I sank into my couch, put up my feet -- and discovered my heels were the color of warm caramel.
A primer on self-tanning
Too afraid to spray-tan? Applying self-tanners can be tricky, however. Here's what you need to know: