Recalling his boyhood in Center, Texas, Don Ramsey says after he spent so many boyhood hours flying model airplanes, “I decided it might be a nice deal to fly real planes for money.” That decision led to a 30-year career as a pilot for Delta Airlines, and he was piloting flights to Europe when he retired just a few years ago.
At the time of his retirement, he didn’t have anything else to do, he says. His wife Molly was managing a tanning salon they owned in Tomball and running another salon for a different owner in Montgomery. In April 2010, Ramsey opened Sunkissed Tanning Salon at 20821-E Eva Street in Montgomery and sold the Tomball salon about a year later.
Today the Ramseys, along with manager Marisa Puckett and two employees, run a salon that offers 13 tanning beds varying in technological sophistication designed to meet the demands of just about anyone who wants to add a darker shade to their appearance without spending hours outdoors and risking sunburn. Tanning bed exposure, according to Ramsey, stimulates the development of melanin, a substance in a person’s skin that causes the skin to darken with the exposure to sunlight. “If you haven’t been in the sun a lot, you probably don’t have a lot of melanin in your skin, so the first tanning session probably just stimulates the development of melanin, and you tan a little. The second and third session produces more melanin, and it will darken more.”
Ramsey says every precaution is taken to ensure a customer’s safety, a position that Marisa emphasizes. “We tan responsibly,” she says. The tanning industry is closely regulated by state and federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration. For instance, Ramsey says, “The state of Texas decided about a year ago that you could not get in a tanning bed if you are under the age of 18. That’s the current state law.” In addition, the maximum daily dose of ultraviolet ray exposure is set at four units by the FDA, states Ramsey. “Our beds are designed to give that amount of exposure in a maximum tanning session. Our maximum tanning time is 15 minutes.” State law also mandates that tanning salons require a 24-hour waiting period for customers between each tanning session. Maximum time allowed for any one session ranges from 10 to 15 minutes depending upon the type of the tanning bed the customer uses.
“We’ve set up our software so we can make no mistakes,” Ramsey says. “The beds run through a computer that runs through a timing system. Basically, we use lamps that provide UV that the sun provides. We do it in a controlled environment so that you don’t burn. We also use a bed that uses a different technology — a high pressure bed — that uses a different spectrum of light to provide more of the tanning rays and less of the burning rays provided by the sun. It penetrates a little deeper, but not over the maximum, and tans a little deeper, darker faster.”
For customers who want that suntanned look quickly, Sunkissed offers spray tanning, achieved by a customer entering a booth that emits a fine mist of tanning solution. Regardless of the type of tanning session selected, all customers must wear goggles during the procedure, Ramsey says, and the salon provides them. “They block 99 percent of UV rays.” The salon also offers custom airbrushing, which requires the aid of a specialist who works with the customer to achieve the desired result.
Each tanning bed is in a private room with a door that locks from the inside to ensure the customer’s privacy. Customers are free to wear as much clothing as they wish, or none at all. Each bed is sterilized after each session, Ramsey says. State inspectors check tanning salons annually to make sure of compliance with all regulations.
Sunkissed Salon’s customer base is 70 percent women, with the majority of them between the ages of 28 to 35, according to Ramsey. Most of them “just want to look better,” he says, but some come to the salon “with skin conditions that doctors have recommended they use tanning beds.” Tanning sessions are available on a session or membership basis.
Ramsey and his wife are longtime residents of River Plantation in Conroe. The couple has two daughters, both grown, who live in Houston. Although he has given up piloting the big planes, he still flies model airplanes. “I do precision aerobatics with model airplanes. It requires a different set of skills completely. For one thing, you’re not in the airplane, so perspective is a lot different. It’s just a lot harder to control. Good eye-hand coordination is required. That’s a challenge. It’s usually a young man’s game. I’m a little older,” he says, laughing. “A lot older than the young guys.” The age difference puts him at a disadvantage, he believes. “I didn’t grow up playing video games and that kind of thing that a lot of those guys did. But I like to compete.”
Ramsey’s time with Delta satisfied his curiosity about both flying and traveling abroad, although he has made two trips to Europe and one to South Africa as a judge for international model airplane competition. The salon keeps him busy, he says. “We’ve got a great customer base. They like us, and we like them.”