Suzen Owen, owner of Tantopia in Hamilton, poses with one of the UWE tanning beds at the front of the store. (Staff photo by Norine Longo.)

By Norine Longo

In winter, when the weather forces people indoors, getting a tan may seem like mission impossible, unless you’ve heard of Tantopia Tanning Centers.

Tantopia opened up in Hamilton five years ago and is owned by husband and wife, Larry and Suzen Owen. The franchise is the only Tantopia in New Jersey.

Prior to Tantopia’s opening, Suzen was an elementary school teacher turned substitute in Hamilton schools. She made the decision to substitute after her son, Max, was born.

But when he graduated high school and left for college, she tried to find something new to focus on.

Five years later, the tanning salon is celebrating its anniversary thanks to what she says are a friendly and knowledgeable staff and the salon’s faithful customers.

Suzen said tanning is a natural process that your body is designed to do; it’s your body’s defense against sunburn and is the single best source of Vitamin D.

She said to avoid sun damage, she recommends to her customers to tan over time, not quickly or all at once.

“I really investigated this before opening up because I didn’t want to open up something that would be harmful to people,” said Suzen, who tans about twice a week.

The high time for tanning starts around Valentine’s Day each year and goes through Memorial Day. Often events like prom in the spring or weddings year round bring tanners to the salons.

When customers go to the salon for the first time, they can expect a full tour from the Smart Tan certified staff of the machines and facilities, which Suzen said is to make customers feel comfortable. The first week of tanning sessions are free to all new customers.

Some might be surprised to learn that about 40 percent of her customers are men. While most of her customers tend to be younger, her oldest client is 86 years old.

Some of Tantopia’s best-selling products are made by Australian Gold, Designer Skin, California Tan and Swedish Beauty, all of which include antioxidants and conditioners.

Many people are divided on which type of machine they use to tan, a booth up or a bed. For the best results, Suzen recommends switching between using a bed and a booth.

Their booths are made by Sun Capsule and beds are made by UWE specifically for the franchise.

“UWE beds are like the Mercedes Benzes of tanning beds,” Suzen said.

In mid-February, Suzen brought in an Air Brush Technician who will begin the service this month forward on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and work by appointments. Walk-ins will be accommodated as possible. Air brush, or spray tanning, is a service that has surged in popularity in recent years, which involves a technician spraying an even tan all over your body and can highlight muscle definition.

Each month they try to do a promotion to stay involved with the community and reward customers for participating. February’s promotion included collecting canned goods for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Those who made a contribution received free upgrades in their tanning.

Tantopia is open Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit tantopia.com, check out their Facebook page or call (609) 588-4044.