Spray Tanning: All Your Questions Answered

Spray Tanning: All Your Questions Answered

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about spray tanning so I thought I’d write a post and compile all the information in one place.

For years, I’ve gotten a spray tan before warm weather vacations, but I never did them regularly until this spring. When my skin returned to its pale winter state after my Florida trip in March, I decided to start getting weekly spray tans until I was able to tan naturally.

Regular spray tanning definitely takes a bit of extra maintenance, but I love the result.


EDITED TO ADD: I am not asking for anyone’s approval or permission here. I’m just sharing what I do, for those who have asked. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Also, if you are not interested in spray tanning, you may like this post all about my favorite at-home self tanning products!

What Type Of Spray Tan Is Best?

There are a few different options if you want to get a spray tan. You can go to one of the spray tanning booths where the machine sprays you, or you can go to a salon where a real live human administers the spray tan.

The human version is far superior because they can customize the tan to accommodate your unique skin and desired result. A good spray tan artist knows how to apply the tan to look natural – heavier to areas that tend to get darker, and lighter to the areas that don’t always see as much sun. And they will usually brush you off at the end with a light dusting of powder that helps it dry naturally and not crease in unfortunate spots.

How Does Spray Tanning Work?

All spray tan products contain the same active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone (DHA for short.) The DHA interacts with your skin’s amino acids, and gives you a tanned appearance over a period of a few hours. I’ve heard it likened to how apple slices oxidize and turn brown when they’re left out on the counter.

DHA is colorless, but tanning companies often add a cosmetic bronzer to the tanning solution so the spray tan artist can see how the tan will look when it develops.

The bronzer washes off and does not stain clothing or bedsheets, but I usually wear dark colored clothes while I’m waiting for the tan to set, just in case.

My spa also has a tanning formula without the bronzer, if I don’t want to look like an Oompa-Loompa all afternoon, but they prefer to use the one with bronzer because it’s easier to get an idea of the end result.

How Long Does a Spray Tan Last?

A spray tan lasts up to two weeks, but it starts looking grungy after 5-7 days, so going weekly has been working well for me.

You can use a tan extender or self tanning lotion to prolong it a bit.

How Do You Prep for a Spray Tan?

You want to lotion regularly on the days leading up to your spray tan, but not the morning of the spray tan. It’s very important to exfoliate and shave the day before your spray tan to prep the skin so it will absorb the spray tan solution evenly and deeply.

You don’t want to exfoliate and shave the day of the tan because it leaves your follicles open for the bronzer to settle into and create dark brown dots on your legs.

Do not apply any lotion or deodorant the morning of your tan. If you want, you can take a quick cold water rinse the morning of the tan to wash off sweat or residual lotions. (Lotions and oils act as a repellent to the tan.)

I’ve also been using this sunless tan remover. I apply it right before I go in to have my next spray tan, so I don’t have as much residual tan on my skin. I get better results with a blank slate.

The Spray Tan Process and What To Wear

If you’re going to a spray tan artist for the first time, she will ask you about the type of results you want, and you can discuss any of your questions or concerns.

The benefit of going regularly to the same person is she learns your preferences and how your skin reacts to her tanning solutions. She has a lot of control over the depth of color and the placement.

Everyone always wants to know what to wear to get a spray tan. You can certainly wear a bathing suit, or you can wear underwear, or nothing. Just make sure whatever you wear gives you tan lines you don’t mind having.

She will take you into a private room, discuss the process and give you basic instructions, and then she will step out while you get undressed. You stand in a little booth and she manually sprays you down. She will direct you on how to stand and position your body for the best results. When she’s done, she should offer to apply some powder that helps it dry more naturally.

You can get dressed right away, but you do feel sticky for a few hours, and you want to wear loose clothing afterwards because anywhere there is friction can prevent the tan from developing nicely.

Spray Tan After Care

After a spray tan, I like to remain in loose-fitting clothing until time to shower, if I can. You usually have to wait 8 hours to shower, but they often have a rapid tanning formula they can use if you have somewhere to go. That one develops in more like 4 hours.

When it’s time to shower, you can use soap (anything but Dove; there is something in it that counteracts the tan) but I don’t use a wash cloth or any type of exfoliating mitt or loofah because it will cause the tan to fade any faster. Be sure to rinse your whole body thoroughly, and gently pat dry (do not rub) with a bath towel.

The more you shower and use soap, the faster the tan will fade, so I always keep that in mind and try not to shower daily. When I do, I keep them short and sweet.

Because I wash my face morning and night, the spray tan usually fades faster than it does on the rest of my body, so I use these tanning drops for my face so they match my skin even when I’m not wearing makeup.

Is Spray Tanning Safe?

This article from the Cleveland Clinic explains the potential concerns with spray tanning, so you can make up your own mind on that.

In general, spray tanning is not considered nearly as hazardous to your health as using tanning beds, and some would say it’s better than tanning in the “real” sun, but the jury is out on that. I refuse to believe the sun is the evil that it has been made out to be, but of course, too much of it can cause premature aging.

If You Prefer Tanning at Home

You can certain get a good result at home, if you don’t want to deal with the spray tanning process. I’ve always been a fan of the Clarins Gel for a buildable tan, but lately I’ve been using Dolce Glow products, and I’m very happy with them. (See more in THIS POST.)

Okay, I think that about covers it! I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have in the comments.


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