The light touch

Updated: 2011-08-12 11:05

By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily European Weekly)

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The local government had pinpointed the area as an official development zone, and the hutong was getting a lot of attention and good publicity.

"We didn't want to end up in a big department store as many others. This area has many small restaurants and boutiques that attract Westerners but also Chinese customers," Kyhl says.

"Our tanning studio used to be a water station. So we had to build everything from the ground up. It has been frustrating but mostly very rewarding."

His main target clients were expats living in Beijing and he wanted to provide the best service possible.

The stand-up sunbed is made in Germany, as are many of his tanning products.

Customers pay on a minute basis and can buy a weekly or monthly card (4.99 yuan a minute).

A typical tanning session takes about 10-12 minutes, and multiple sessions are required.

After the initial flux of mainly Western customers, his girlfriend Yuki started blogging about the studio and suddenly Chinese customers appeared, even movie stars like Louis Koo Tin Lok. "Chinese people are getting curious, trying to understand the concept of sunbathing. You have to explain to them how sunbathing works. Many don't know, they never sunbathe out, let alone in a solarium," Kyhl says.

He also believes that one of the reasons why Chinese women use whitening products is that they do not know how to protect their skin from sunburn. And that sunbathing, in moderation, can be good for you.

"We have to explain that vitamin D is good for their skin and health. And if they have skin problems it can be because of the lack of sun. I had a bad rash on my foot when I was living in Denmark. When I went to the doctors, he told me to sunbathe a couple of times; after a couple of sessions the rash disappeared, thanks to the effect of sun exposure," Kyhl says.

"Chinese girls will put whitening creams or other protection on their skin as soon as they leave their homes, trying to avoid every sun ray they come in contact with. You will notice a white mark from their neck up."

Most of his Chinese clients are men, many of whom are body builders, who use a tan to make their muscles look more defined.

Jack Zhang, a 26 year-old magazine model, began sunbathing two years ago when he studied abroad.

"I feel more attractive when I have a tan. I used to like pale skin before but after spending time abroad I started to realize how much healthier my skin looks. I feel like a real man and not sick," he says. "I believe more Chinese people are thinking the same. They go on holiday and realize it looks better. I don't like pale, white skin anymore. It looks sick and fat."

Kyhl hopes winter will attract more customers, who will discover that a tan will put them in a better mood.

Attitudes to sunbathing are changing, especially as Chinese can afford summer holidays and return home bronzed. "Like it is for us in the West, they want to look like we just arrived from a vacation," he says.

He has no plans to return to Denmark any time soon, even if he appreciates his homeland the older he gets. Beijing is his new home and keeps getting better. "When I first came to Beijing from Dalian, the city was quite filthy and nasty and you couldn't get a proper pizza. Today you can get everything you need and it's cleaner and nicer," he says.

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