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Spray Tanning: Tips, Tricks & Answers to the Questions You Didn't Know to Ask

So you're off the tanning bed: Bravo! But the trade-off doesn't mean you need to look pale or pasty. Spray tanning offers you all the glow of a traditional tan without the risk of skin cancer. Here are all the tips, tricks, dos—and more important—don'ts you need to know!


Spray tanning can be intimidating if you've never done it, so I'll break it all down for you. I've done spray tanning several times, my first time ending in what I call the Jersey Shore Incident of 2010. This occurred because I foolishly thought, I might as well get my money's worth and do the darkest color. Bad idea. I spent my first wedding anniversary glowing like a carrot nightmare.

But if you have a special event or vacation coming up, I would absolutely opt for a spray tan and say goodbye to tanning beds forever. Booths like Mystic Tan or VersaSpa are often available right alongside traditional tanning beds at many tanning salons. Similar to self-tanning lotions, the solution applied in spray-tan booths contains Dihydroxyacetone or DHA, a chemical that causes a chemical reaction with the top layers of your skin, causing it to darken for up to a week. The tan will develop within a few hours, fade as your skin naturally exfoliates and will not wash away like a temporary bronzer would.

Here's how it works. Wearing your birthday suit or a swimsuit, you'll stand in a spray-tan booth, which is about the size of an old-school telephone booth. Automated nozzles spray a fine mist of self-tanner solution on your body and a prerecorded voice instructs you when to change positions to allow the spray to reach all sides of your body. The nozzles pass over your body with air at the end to dry you. The entire process takes 5 minutes or less.

Beyond the spray-tanning booth, an even more precise and customized option is available: airbrush tanning. With airbrush tanning, a certified airbrush technician applies a customized shade of tanning solution to your body with an airbrush gun. This option leaves far less room for error as you aren't left to your devices when positioning yourself or choosing a color level. An airbrush artist will customize a level of tan that is appropriate for your skin tone.

If you're getting an artificial glow for an event, especially your wedding, Traci Noll of Tanique Airbrush Tanning recommends always doing a trial run a few weeks before the big day and schedule your tan two days before the event.

When deciding whether a spray-tanning booth or an airbrush tan is right for you, there are a few considerations. Amy Jungmann of Emberglow Custom Spray Tanning says, "An automatic spray-tan booth and a custom spray tan cannot be compared. I truly believe that when people are afraid to get a spray tan, it's because they have had a terrible experience with an automatic booth—think Ross with the spray-tan episode on Friends."

A spray-tan booth may be more private, but an airbrush technician won't let you leave with streaks, mistakes and regrets!

Here are ALL the dos and don'ts you need to know to ensure a quality spray tan.


  • Exfoliate prior to your spray tan. Either use a body scrub or loofah on your entire body in the shower or try dry-brushing.
  • Shave prior to your spray tan. This is essentially another form of exfoliation as it takes the top layer of your skin with it.
  • Apply a body butter to areas that are prone to grab more solution like knees, backs of ankles, elbows and definitely your hands and feet. I say body butter rather than lotion because it creates more of a barrier.
  • Moisturize before a spray tan. If your skin is dry, your tan will flake off with it.
  • Moisturize in the days following. This will retain your tan and keep it looking fresh longer.
  • Pat yourself dry; don't rub after showering.


  • Exercise, bathe or swim sooner than 8 hours after your spray tan. It will result in streaks.
  • Mistake a sunless tan for sunscreen. There is no UV protection in sunless tanning solution.
  • Bother with the instant bronze solution they may offer you.
  • Wear light-colored clothing or your prettiest lingerie. The self-tanning solution can stain your clothing, so choose loose, dark clothing instead.
  • Wear any jewelry or hair ties on your wrist. I've made this mistake. You'll have a white line just as you would with regular tanning.
  • Apply deodorant if possible before your spray tan. "Because deodorant is an aluminum-based product, you may notice that your armpits have a green hue after tanning," says Jungmann. This happens when the aluminum in the deodorant reacts with the sunless solution. It's best to arrive with clean, fresh skin so that there are no barriers for the application,"
  • Hang out in a chlorinated pool or hot tub. You'll exfoliate that tan right away!

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For more skin care advice from Ivy, go to Wake Up for Makeup.

Ivy Boyd

I have a Bachelor's degree in Graphic Design, but it's creating works of art on faces that I love most. By day, I am a Senior Education Consultant for Sephora as well as a freelance makeup artist. The rest of the time, I'm creating content for my makeup and beauty blog, Wake Up for Makeup, reading product reviews, watching tutorial videos and reading makeup artist books. I live and breathe this stuff and if you could eat makeup, I'd probably do that too. I also love painting abstracts, running, attending music festivals and acting weird with my husband and our two awesome cats. I'm here to tell you what products are legit, how to better use the ones you have, give you ideas to shake up your routine and guide you through some fun tutorials I know you can dominate.

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