Learn How To Do Airbrush Spray Tanning

If you want a spray on tan for yourself, your best friend, or hundreds of people a day. It doesn’t matter how many. It doesn’t matter how often. You’ve found the right place.

The Sunless Spray Tan Process in a Nutshell

  • Spray tanning solution on the client’s skin.
  • DHA inside the solution reacts with proteins in the skin cells.
  • The client waits 4-6 hours before showering.Voila! They’re tan.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Begin

  • Who sprays the tan?
  • Where is the tan sprayed?
  • What equipment do you need?
  • Why spray someone

Who sprays the tan?

  • People spray themselves. Well, a friend or spouse usually does the spraying which generally results in the least expensive tan.
  • You or your employee sprays the client. A well trained airbrush technician sprays the highest quality tan with the most room for special requests.
  • A machine sprays the client which generally results in the fastest, most consistent tan.

Where is the tan sprayed?

  • Home (usually in the shower). This is usually the least expensive place to be tanned.
  • Tanning Salons generally offer lots of choices and speed.
  • Day Spas offer the best experience.
  • Dermatologist offer skill. They are specifically skilled at concealing various skin problems.
  • Mobile Service are convenient

What equipment do you need?

The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ determine the kind of equipment you’ll look at.

Products compete for your attention. If you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s a confusing mess. And when you’re starting out how can you possibly know what you should be looking for?

Don’t panic.

  • Choosing an Airbursh Tanning Gun - It isn’t difficult to find the right gun for your needs.​
  • Mix and Match—I like to call it the Do It Yourself path:Mixing and matching your equipment will be more involved, but it’s well worth the extra up-front effort.
  • Spray Tanning Kits - Kits are like coveralls. You’ll still need to know the basics to choose the a good fit but most of the choices have already been made for you.

Why spray someone?

Before you can decide how you’re going to deliver a spray on tan you really should know what kind of spray on tan you wish to give.

To aid you in this decision let me introduce the project triangle.

You can only choose up to two options.

This means that you can give…

  1. A fast, quality airbrush tan that’s expensive.
  2. A cheap, fast spray on tan that won’t be very good.
  3. A cheap, quality spray tan, that takes time.

Think about your goals. Different people want different things. It’s okay to focus on cheap, or quality, or speed, but know what your focus is so that you can do it.

Me? I always choose quality. My projects, articles, and endeavors can be really slow, really expensive, somewhere in-between, but always the best I can write.

How to do airbrush tanning

By now, you should already have your equipment and a place to spray. Here is how to airbrush someone.

  • Point the airbrush at the (semi) naked person.
  • Spray until completely covered in solution.
  • Clean the airbrush out after you're done

But it can't be that easy! Right?! Well, it's not 'quite' that easy. There are a few more steps in between and knowledge generally transforms okay tans into good tans. Add practice and and a dose of really good knowledge and transform your good tans into great tans!

Doing It

Spray tanning is the easiest thing you can do with an airbrush. You won't use their full capability, you don't need their full capability. Easy to do, doesn't mean easy to make look natural. You'll have to practice a lot to spray a "natural looking" tan.

Get Suited Up...or Down

If you're tanning someone you'll want to be fully clothed, preferably with a washable smock of some kind. You'll also need your dust mask. Unless you have amazing ventilation, WEAR YOUR DUST MASK!

If you're being tanned it's time to strip down and put on the hair cover. Whatever you've got left on will determine where your tan lines are. This is also the time to exfoliate unless you've already done that at home.

Ventilation On

Get the air moving, but remember there's a naked or semi-naked person there too. You don't want your ventilation blowing on them. You want your ventilation to pull the fumes out.

If you've got a cloud of tanning fumes then you'll need turn down your air pressure and increase the amount of air flowing through the room.

Compressor On

It's always best to have your compressor in a different room since tanning solution has a nasty habit of shortening the compressor's lifespan. Just a word of wisdom from someone who's seen almost everything...

You'll also want to make sure the pressure is between 15 and 25 while the airbrush is spraying. You're always trying to spray people with the lowest pressure possible while avoiding clogging problems and grainy spray.

  • ​Higher pressure = finer spray = more fumes to inhale
  • Lower pressure = coarser spray = fewer fumes to inhale

Pre-Rinse Check, All System Go!

Spray some water or cleaning solution through the airbrush first.

I'm the paranoid repair technician who used to deal with your problems over the phone with that naked person in the next room. In fact, it's actually better to do this step before the person even walks into the room. You want to look professional right?

What you're doing here is making sure the equipment functions properly BEFORE you actually try using it.​

Fill a Bottle with Solution

Heavier tans and bigger people will need more solution than lighter tans on smaller people. 2oz is a good round number to figure on until you've got more experience.

There might actually be a few more steps here depending on the brand of solution you use. I know some manufacturers have you mix it up on the spot or add the bronzer in or whatever. This is the time to follow their directions for any kind of additives or solution mixing instructions.

Spray the Client

  • Hold the airbrush roughly 8-12 inches away
  • Spray in overlapping lines or circles.

Whichever you choose, stick to that method for the entire tan.

  • Spray as dry as you can

Airbrush spray shouldn't look slick, nor should it glisten. It should look dry, maybe a little glisteny the very moment it hits the person, but you don't want it to stay that way. The person should be dry to the touch--but you don't want to touch them--that'll ruin their new finish!
If you spray dry you'll never have to worry about runs.

  • If an area starts to glisten stop spraying solution and only spray air. This will help dry off that area quicker.
  • Don't spray your compressor

"But, but, but, what about actually telling me how to do it?" you ask.

​Oh! You want me expound upon this process hmm? Well, I scoured the web for a good airbrush tanning demonstration video. They are using a big spray gun so they can move faster.

Rinse your airbrush immediately after you're done spraying

DO NOT WAIT, rinse your airbrush now! Tanning solution is sticky, gunky stuff. It clogs airbrushes without hesitation. If you develop this habit you probably won't have to ever worry about deep cleaning your airbrush more than once every year or two.

​The day you forget this and leave solution in your airbrush overnight is the day you will have to deep clean your airbrush.

Finishing Up!!

The client needs to dry off a bit and then wear loose clothing. No showers or hard exercise for the solution manufacturer's recommended amount of time (usually 6-8 hours)

Airbrush Tanning For Beginners - Video Guide

Above guide is basically a written spray tanning for beginners guide. I found a brief training video that shows excellent spray tanning technique.

Notice these things as you watch.

  • The Method - There is a set, methodical way to teach spray tanning to beginners. I'm a fan of method because there's less thinking about that method once it becomes a habit. Once it's a habit all you need to do is change the particulars for clients with unique situations.
  • The Efficiency - The client turns. The technician sprays the exposed areas..
  • The Ergonomics - The technician only has to move so much in order to accomplish the task.
  • The Speed - Method + Efficient + Ergonomic + a Big Honkin Spray Gun = Speedy Spray Tans. It looks like the tan quality remains but the increased speed allows for higher client volume.
  • The Tent - The over spay goes into the tent (which I assume is a spray tanning tent that sucks and filters the air. This means the technician doesn't need to wear safety equipment.The tent is probably washable (though you'd want to check with the manufacturer). Tents are collapsible, which makes them perfect formobile operations

Voila! You've done it! It's really not hard, but with some practice you'll become an expert capable of varying the degrees of darkness someone wants and even making the tan slightly uneven to make it appear more natural. You've gotta have something to work towards after all!​

How can you get trained?

Delivering a quality spray on tan requires both knowledge and experience.

  • Educate the client - If you’re getting sprayed you need to know these things!
  • Educate the technician - If you’re doing the spraying you need to know these things!
  • Customer service and etiquette - Service, service, service…and you! People like to do business with people they like. Be the person they like to do business with.
  • Business concerns - won’t get too deep here. This is just a general overview. Especially because running a business has been covered by people who know the subject much better than me.​

What safety issues exist?

For the most part, spray on tans are safe. Many authorities will tell you 100% safe. I choose the over protective route.

Don’t breathe the sprayed solution

Avoid certain areas of the body

  • Eyes
  • Mucus Membranes
  • Lips
  • Nasal Passages
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Lungs
  • For the ladies your, umm, very naughty bits…

For a more in-depth answer check out the article How Safe Is Airbrush Tanning?

What problems, aka troubleshooting, will you run into?

Everybody, every service, every product has its own share of problems, screw ups, and general weirdness. The three big areas are…

  • Client Screw Ups
  • Equipment Malfunctions
  • Technician Screw Ups

That's it. 

I hope you learned something from this airbrush tanning guide.​