Spray Tan

Ultimate Spray Tan Guide: Spray Tan Tips For A Beautiful Tan

Last Updated: August 14, 2023

In This article....

  • How to prepare your skin before a spray tan session and what to wear during and after it
  • How to maintain your spray tan for longer and avoid common problems like fading, patchiness, and orange tones
  • How to find a reputable spray tan salon or technician and what to expect from the process

Gone are the days of looking pale and horror-stricken all the time for no reason. Here you will discover how to bring the color back into your life through spray tanning. This is your ultimate spray tan guide complete with professional tips and tricks, to help glow up your complexion and have you looking on-fleek and flawless.

What is a spray tan?

A spray tan is a simulated darkening of skin color similar to a self-tan or sunless tan with the use of a tinted tanning formula. These tanning formulas are specially made with ingredients to brown or bronze your complexion for a couple of days irrespective of water exposure. However minimal contact with water is highly recommended in order to prolong the life of your tan. A spray tan is also defined by the way it is applied unto your body and that is the through spraying or misting mechanism. These can be either by an aerosol can or bottle, an airbrush device or a tanning booth where the tanning formula is dispensed through several nozzles or spouts that are placed in strategic locations so that users obtain full body coverage quicker and in one go.

How does spray tan work?

A spray tan is simply a cosmetic enhancement comparable to the way makeup works. It takes some know-how to apply it but the tanning solution is made to do everything else, and that is to color or brown your skin for several days.

One of the key components in the spray tan formula is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a tinting agent that chemically reacts with the amino acids in the proteins of the skin. Different amino acids react to DHA in different ways, producing different tones of coloration from yellow to brown. Upon deciding which color suits your needs, the spray tan is applied in the form of a mist, which usually takes a few minutes to dry. Once it does, the formula dyes your skin and remains that way for a couple of days before it begins to fade. Fading usually occurs gradually giving you a few days to reapply more if you decide to.

The spray tan formula is harmless on your skin, however, it is not completely non-toxic. So even though you can reapply the mist regularly, you should consider protecting your eyes and minimizing inhalation as much as possible.

How long does a spray tan last?

Makers of spray tanning formulas have perfected the science so much that some have been successful in creating products that last as long as ten days. However, while some users may experience this, others may not. Why? because everyone’s skin’s chemistry and composition are different.

Also, some manufacturers focus on adding other features in efforts of creating a more wholesome product, e.g. a spray tanning oil with superior moisturizing effects and/ or healthier ingredients. These elements may cause some tanning products to lose their staying power and as a result, may last as little as three days. So this really depends on what is important to the consumer; a longer lasting tan or a healthy tanning product that will give them some color along the way.  Another factor that will determine the longevity of your tan is how you care for and try to maintain it.

There are tips that will help you to care for and extend your tan so that it lasts longer. These will be discussed further in the section, ‘How to keep a spray tan longer’, as you continue reading this guide.

How much does a spray tan cost?

A spray tan can cost you just a few dollars or up to a hefty sum of cash. The most inexpensive of the lot would definitely be the aerosol bottle versions that you find at your local convenience store or online. Examples of these are the Neutrogena Micro-Mist spray, this you can find on Amazon for as little as $8 per bottle or if you have more to spend and want a tanning spray with more positive reviews then you can try St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mist that will run you about $34.

A great DIY option is investing in a sunless spray tanning kit that not only provides you with the tanning formula but also an airbrush machine and its accessories as well as a protective tent that you stand in while applying the spray tan to avoid making a mess. This may take some professional intervention or just some extra hands if you’re up for the challenge. These kits can cost anywhere between $150 to $300 and then you would have to purchase the tanning formula thereafter which will cost you about $15 and up.

Tanning salons will charge you anywhere from $25 to $60 plus tax and tip per session, which actually adds up to be much more than the options previously mentioned. So it is, in fact, the most expensive option because you will need a session every couple of days or weekly to maintain your tan.

There are also tanning technicians that you can outsource to do home visits. This service is similar to what the tanning salons offer but obviously more convenient and let us not forget the hassle of traveling to and from the salon for each visit. Mobile tanning services will cost you about the same as a salon but of course, this will vary for several reasons, i.e. company prices differ, transportation cost, service charge, and tip may be more and so on.

How long does a spray tan take to dry?

Among the horde of tanning products and options out there, spray tanners take the least amount of time to dry. Since the solution is dispensed from a nozzle it comes out in the form of a light mist. Once applied unto your body it will take perhaps 5-7 minutes to dry. But for added assurance, you can give it an additional 3 minutes, totaling 8-10 minutes of drying time. Some tanning formulas are heavier than others because of the ingredients and portions there of. So even though they are dispensed the same way, these denser mixtures tend to take longer to dry.

A great tip to try if you are tanning at home is to use a standing fan to help speed up the drying time. Set it to oscillate at a medium pace and stand some distance away so that the wind doesn’t disturb the setting of the tanning solution on your skin. Also note, ceiling fans work just the same. It’s also a good idea to air dry in a cool place where you won’t work up a sweat.

How often should you spray tan?

This can be a personal preference but there are guidelines to spray tanning that you should know before deciding what is best for you. Remember, it’s always best to know which brands are safer to use. Manufacturers nowadays understand that appealing to the average consumer, means making a product that not only works but is also non-toxic, vegan, gluten-free, etc. In fact, quite a number of spray tanners out there have a bunch of healthy ingredients and will meet certain health criteria for your particular needs. So the idea here is to shop around first so that you can be comforted with using a product that is probably going to do more good than harm and in that case, you can feel free to use it as many times as you want.

Another thing to note is that while one type of tanner is great for someone else doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on you. As mentioned before, everyone’s skin and body make-up are different so the results may not be the same. The worst-case scenario is that you can develop an allergic reaction to these products and suffer some pretty brutal consequences. Again this all goes back to shopping around, making sure to read the labels on these tanning products to ensure their eligibility, and doing a patch test on your skin first before a full body coverage.

Always read the reviews online and go with what the professionals at the tanning salon tell you. Keep trying different products even though you may feel as if you have found the ‘one’, there may be something better.

Once you have found a spray tanner that you like or a method you prefer and have used it for a while, you will see how your skin reacts to the treatment and ultimately see the benefits it has to offer. Even though the description may say it will last 4-6 days, it may go up to 8 days for you before noticeable fading. This also may have a lot to do with your schedule and how you spend your days. For instance, working inside an office and going home after with short errands here and there may allow your tan to stay put longer than someone who works outdoors and sweats a lot.

For the most part, if you want to maintain your tan and stay glowing, then you will have to reapply a day or two after it begins to fade. Although, with cosmetics that you use on your skin, it’s always a good rule of thumb to do so in moderation. For that reason, I would say to do your spray tans every two weeks and when you can take a break from using it altogether then do so. While these products are safe to use, repeated use over time may be harmful.

Does spray tan smell?

The answer to that question is yes!. I have not come across any tanning spray that doesn’t have a scent. However, I believe that I have a super sensitive awareness to smell than the average person, so while I may be picking up scents of all sorts around me and in high intensities, this may not be the case for someone else. So if you’re keen on scents then you will know what I am talking about.

Some tanning sprays have strong perfumed fragrances but the common ingredient of DHA has an unmistaken and unmasked scent in every bottle. Since the Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) reacts differently to everyone’s body chemistry, users will experience various types of smells. Some have described tanning sprays as having a yeasty smell while their tan is developing. Others say it smells like a wet cat or dog, I have even heard of it smelling like old gym socks. Don’t be fooled either, taking a whiff directly from the bottle doesn’t give you the true scent of the liquid inside.

On a more positive note, however, there are many users who after a shower don’t experience any lingering smell. Hopefully, this may be the case for you and will only have to endure the smell while it is developing your tan. Once that period has passed and you are able to take a shower, all the scent washes away.

How to get rid of spray tan smell

If you are among the unfortunate bunch that continues to smell the spray tan scent after tanning and the days after, then there are a couple tips and trick to help with this. Even though it is highly advised to make the tanner stay on your skin as long as possible, i.e. up to 8 hours for color deepening and longer lasting results, sadly this may make the scent stick or harder to get rid of. Taking a shower sooner than later will help you to minimize or eliminate the after-smell entirely, however, this may affect the longevity of your tan.

Another great tip is to use a bath gel that is highly fragranced with odor masking ingredients such as lavender and vanilla. Citrus scents are also well known for cutting odor.

Along with a fragranced infused shower or bath, you can also use scented lotions and or powders to sweeten up after. Furthermore, go right ahead and sweeten up your bed sheets, linen, and furniture with some air fresheners, this will also help to mask the odor.

If you’re not a fan of strong perfumed aromas, then you can try adding baking soda to lotions you already use or to a scentless powder. This will help to eliminate the scent the tanning spray left behind on your skin because baking soda is an excellent odor neutralizer.

If you find that you have tried several spray tanners and remain to be a victim of a bad spray tan smell, then I would advice looking specifically for tanning products that have fewer concentrations of DHA, since it is believed to be the most potently bad smelling ingredient within the tanner. Another idea could be to simply try another method of tanning; perhaps spray tanning isn’t for you, so try using sunless tanning lotions, creams or oils. How about a real tan? Nothing beats an authentic tan, so if this is something you can try then go right ahead YOLO!

Spray Tan Tips

Hopefully, we have answered many of the questions and concerns you had with spray tanning. In the event you have decided to join the brown skin squad, here are some key tips to guide you through the entire spray tanning process and to help optimize your tan.

The day before you get your spray tan

So it’s the day before your spray tanning appointment or perhaps you have decided to do it yourself. Well, whichever way here’s the first thing that you need to do – Wash your hair and shave the places that need hair removal, i.e. your face, underarms, hands, bikini area and legs.

The purpose of washing your hair before spray tanning is so that you don’t have to do it after. To prolong your brown skin color after tanning, it is advised not to use harsh soaps on your skin or taking long baths. Shampoos and conditioners may include additives that will ruin or wear off your simulated tan and that extra time you spend in the shower to wash your hair will also make it fade sooner than later.

Removing hair will help the tanning solution to cover your skin smoothly and evenly so that you arrive at a flawless looking tan. If you prefer waxing the hairs off, then by no means go right ahead. It’s important to do this the day before to allow your pores to close and skin to recover.

Waxing actually heightens the chances of skin irritation during tanning because the outermost layer of the skin’s wall gets damaged. If you happen to develop scraps or bruises from waxing, it’s probably a good idea to postpone your spray tan session.

On the day of the tan

Take a good bath! This will be no ordinary shower; essentially it needs to be one that combines a couple of minutes of deep exfoliating efforts. Actually, if you can soak in a bath for 20 minutes or so and exfoliate during, then that would even be better. The point of this is to rid your skin of any residue left behind by daily cosmetics such as soaps, makeup, lotions, moisturizers, perfumes or oils, etc. Also and evenly important, this will help to scrub away dead skin cells, uproot ingrown hairs, black & white heads and ultimately smoothen your skin’s surface. Use a heavily grained exfoliating scrub along with a Loofah or coarse bath mitten for best results. Do not use densely moisturized bath products, as these tend to leave a film of lubricant on your skin after, which can act as a barrier that will prevent the tanning spray from fully penetrating the surface. The same goes for applying any other skin product, just avoid them all together on the day of tanning.

What to wear to a spray tan

Nothing! Once you get to the tanning salon or if you’re at home and about to start tanning, just get stark naked. This will give you complete coverage everywhere without tan lines. However, if you’re like me and actually like tan lines then a skimpy bikini will create the perfect ones. Just slip on one of your best Brazilian cut swimsuits to get the job done right. But make sure you are prepared to get it really dirty, and perhaps without repair. Spray tanning solution will undoubtedly stain any fabric it comes in contact with especially when applied wet.

For the fellas, try tanning in fitted swim trunks or speedos but if you’re brave enough maybe you could try going nude as well – what the heck! (Tip: be sure to cover your man parts though)

You also need to wear a shower cap to cover your hair, swim caps and head wraps work just as well; the main idea is to protect your hair from discoloration.

During the spray tan session

Add some Vaseline to the places on your body you don’t want the spray tanning solution to touch, i.e., your facial hair (eyebrows, mustache, and or beard) and perhaps certain tattoos.

The same goes for places on your body you don’t particularly want to get darker, i.e. your elbows, knuckles, knees, and parts of your ankles maybe. Other substitutes for Vaseline are body oils or lotions. These products act as a barrier to prevent the tanning solution from absorbing into the skin. 

If you tan at the salon, the tanning advisor will tell you where and how to stand in the booth when the spray tan is being administered. If you are the one doing it, then there is actually an application method to follow.

While spraying the tanning solution, hold your hand very steady and some distance away from your body. Hover the spray bottle or airbrush slowly as you are applying the tanner and go over areas that didn’t get proper coverage right away.

Allow drying without letting anything touch you and do not go into the water. Don’t even wash your hands. If you get tanner on the inside of your hands, wait until the solution dries completely then soak a cotton swab with liquid soap, lime juice or rubbing alcohol and wipe your palm clean. Washing your hands while your spray tan is still wet, will rinse away all the color from the top part as well as sections of your wrist.

After the spray tanning session

After you’re done tanning, and if you have to, put on light airy clothing that won’t press unto your skin to smudge your spray tan. Avoid doing anything much or even sitting or laying down especially for long periods of time. Stay in a cool place so that you don’t begin to sweat, this also helps your spray tan to dry quicker. Do not apply anything to your skin and again stay away from water. Allow the tanner to stay on your skin undisturbed for up to 8 hours before showering, however, you can let it stay for as little as 4 hours and still get adequate color.

(For the days after your tanning session, do not use perfumes and body mists or splashes on your skin. The alcohol in these products will wear into the tanning formula to create blotches and spots on your fake tan).

How to shower after a spray tan

When showering after your spray tan, do so preferably in cool water, with a soft washcloth and a bath gel that has high levels of moisturizing properties.  Cool water is subtler than hot or very warm water and as such will have less impact on removing the tanner. A soft washcloth or simply using your hands to rub the soap onto your body works the same way, where it is less likely to take off more of your tanner than it should. Using bath gels with a lot of hydrating and moisturizing ingredients will nourish your skin leaving it supple and soft, thus creating the perfect canvas for the tanner to thrive.

How to keep a spray tan longer

Continue taking gentle showers with high moisture cleansers, however, if you want the best results then there are products that you can use to extend your spray tan. For instance, I use Jergens Natural Glow, which is a wet skin moisturizer for using after you have showered. It locks in hydration and gradually develops your skin tone to have a rich, natural-looking color each day. There are also tan extender lotions that you can reapply throughout the day. These are simply lotions with higher hydration levels than regular lotions combined with the infusions of DHA and color boosters to deliberately maintain your tan.

Tan extender lotions go hand in hand with spray tans, sunless and self-tans for creating a flawless, natural looking glow on your skin. Using tan extenders can literally add a couple more days to the life of your tan. So if you would like to maximize on sustaining your tan and making the entire experience worthwhile, then this is the way to go – Good Luck!

Hello! I'm Mandi Colburn, the lead writer of TanningReview.com. Inspired by a California upbringing and a passion for health and fitness, I turned my fascination with sun exposure into a blog that offers credible, research-driven advice on tanning and skin protection. Welcome to TanningReview.com, where my goal is to guide you toward a healthier, sun-kissed glow.