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Tanifornia: Cocoa Brown's Marissa Carter in talks with US distributor

Marissa Carter’s ascent to Ireland’s tanning queen has been a swift one.

In less than two years, the 31-year-old went from running a beauty salon in the leafy Dublin suburb of Blackrock to selling her own brand of tanning lotion, Cocoa Brown, to retailers such as Primark across the UK and Ireland.

The brand is sold at the UK pharmacy chains Superdrug and Lloyds, and Carter has just clinched a deal with Primark to sell her range at its stores in continental Europe. She is also in talks with a distributor in California to help her break into the American market and expects to double her entire sales in 2014.

Carter’s lightbulb moment for the business came in 2012, when she was sleeping beside her newborn son.

“I had been sprayed-tanned at my beauty salon the day before, and when I woke up the next morning, my three-week-old son was also beautifully tanned on one side, because the tan transferred to him,” she said.

“I immediately thought two things; one, ‘I hope my husband sees the funny side’, and two, ‘I think I can do something to solve this problem’.

Carter, who had a year-long correspondence course in cosmetic chemistry under her belt, set about formulating a false tan product that would develop in one hour instead of eight and use vegetable dyes to reduce the biscuit odour typical of traditional self-tans.

The businesswoman knew there was demand for the product; sales of spray tan had bucked declines in other treatments at Carter Beauty, the salon she clung on to “by the skin of my teeth” during the recession.

The Dubliner first set up the beauty salon at the age of 21, in the laundry room of a house she was renting. She sold Carter Beauty last month to focus on Cocoa Brown, which now sells at a rate of three a minute.

The brand became the only Irish one to date to be showcased during Oscar week. Earlier this year, Carter was invited to set up a Cocoa Brown stall at the pampering suite at the Beverly Hilton, where Hollywood stars were allowed choose whatever products they wanted to prepare for the event.

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