Spray Tan Tips: Everything You Need to Know for a Natural Glow

woman getting a spray tan

Image: Getty

You know that lying out in the sun or on a tanning bed are major no-nos. UV rays are so harmful, in fact, that even the UV lamps used for gel manicures may cause cancer. At-home tanning lotions, sprays and gels are alternatives but as anyone who has tried them can attest, even the newest formulations aren’t easy to make look natural. Luckily, spray tans have come a long way since Ross Geller had his go-round. Many salons have trained technicians who manually spray each person and there are a number of spray tan tips to optimize your glow.

How do you prepare for a spray tan?

Do everything — exfoliate, shave, wax, get a mani/pedi, color your hair, etc. — the day before your tan. “Exfoliation and hair removal should be done 12 to 24 hours in advance so the pores close before your tanning application,” says NKD SKN VIP tanning artist Gete Solomon. “Don’t apply any deodorant, perfumes, lotions/oils or makeup to the skin the morning of your tan. You want the skin to be completely bare.” Gotham Glow founder Tamar Vezirian agrees that a pre-tan shave is essential, but says you shouldn’t use a razor with glide strips as it creates a barrier on skin and the tan won’t absorb properly.

Wait for your tan to dry before leaving the salon

It’s imperative you let your tan dry for at least 15 minutes before putting on clothes or going outside, especially if it’s hot out. Exactly how long you will need varies from person to person. “Some people naturally have oily skin so it will take them a bit longer to dry,” says Vezirian. “At Gotham Glow, we keep the salon cool with fans as we want to make sure the client is completely dry before they leave. There are some salons that keep a toasty environment, but the client will be at risk of streaking if they haven’t properly dried.”

How long do I have to wait to shower after a spray tan?

This depends on the spray tan you’re getting and how dark you want it. Gotham Glow, for example, offers both Express and Regular tans. With the Express, you can shower after as little as two hours and the tan will continue to develop and deepen over eight hours. With the Regular, you should wait eight hours (you can also sleep in it). “If you’re choosing to sleep in the tan, sprinkle baby powder lightly on top of yourself and it will stop the tan from transferring onto your sheets,” says Blair James, co-founder of Bondi Sands. No matter what tan you opt for, wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid sweating and touching water before your first shower.

How long do you have to wait to shave after your spray tan?

After your spray tan, Vezirian says it’s best to wait a couple of days to shave and/or exfoliate. Even better, wait until your tan has faded if possible. When you do shave, she suggests using hair conditioner as a shave cream and says not to shave over the same area more than once.

How long does a spray tan last?

How long it will last and how evenly your tan will fade all depend on how you care for your skin. As a rule of thumb, spray tans typically last five to seven days. “Skin hydration is key to maintaining your tan, therefore we recommend using our Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk daily since this will not only keep your skin hydrated, but will also prolong your tan,” says James.

Remember not to use too much lotion, however, as excess moisture will cause fading. As a rule of thumb, the most basic oil-free moisturizers work best as some of the fancier moisturizers have glycolics or oils that will make the tan fade quicker, Vezirian says. She also adds that it’s important to avoid hot water when you shower because the hot steam will open up pores and the tan will come off. If you’re looking to revive a fading tan, products like NKD SKN Gradual Glow Daily Tan Moisturiser can help.

What should you do if your spray tan is getting patchy as it fades?

This is when that hot water that was so bad for maintaining your spray tan comes in. “A hot steam shower is best,” Vezirian says. “Stay in the shower about 10 minutes and let pores open up. Use a loofah and soap to slough off the remaining tan or use baking soda mixed with a bit of water to make a paste for exfoliating those areas.” There are also products like Self Tan Eraser that can be helpful.

Are there toxic chemicals in spray tans?

“Spray tanning is, unfortunately, not regulated as far as what is and isn’t considered organic,” says Sweetheart Tan founder Audrey Spina. “If a spray tan formula uses only Ecocert DHA (DHA is the active ingredient in spray tan), then they can call it organic. Let’s say the source of the DHA is organic, say it came from organic apples, they are also allowed to call it an organic formula. A very small amount of the solution is needed to come from organic ingredients to be considered so.”

That said, she notes that spray tans are generally not considered harmful. “I do believe certain ingredients can be harmful, like propylene glycol, which is in so many different products from the beauty industry to the vape industry. I think long-term exposure to breathing spray tan formula is a bigger concern, which falls on the technician themselves. Right now in spray tanning, we just don’t know that DHA is anything to be concerned about so if you are concerned, you should be asking for the ingredients of the product up front and doing your due diligence on each one.”

The problem with spray tans is that you don’t have ingredients listed out as you do with the self-tanners you pick up at the store (most technicians don’t even know what exactly is in the formulations they’re spraying). Given that there haven’t been any long-term studies on the safety of spray tans, if you are concerned, it’s best to go for at-home self-tanners and carefully read ingredient labels. “The key is to look for formulas that are clean and nontoxic,” says Vita Liberata Advanced Organics founder Alyson Hogg. “Steer clear of propylene glycol, toxic preservatives such as parabens, and avoid irritation by looking out for fragrances and alcohol.”