Spray Tan Guide - What is Spray Tanning (and Is it Safe?)

Spray Tan Guide – Is it Right for You?

If your pasty winter skin has got you feeling blue, it may be time to book your first spray tanning session. Spray tanning is an easy and healthy way to maintain a great tan. It has none of the safety drawbacks of tanning beds, and it produces customizable, natural-looking results. You won't leave your tanning booth looking orange and streaky. You'll walk out of the booth with a perfect, sun kissed glow.

airbrush tanning

What Is Spray Tanning?

Spray tanning allows people to achieve a bronze glow all year round without the health risks of tanning beds. The process is fairly simple. A thin mist is sprayed onto the desired areas of skin, and the skin turns a natural-looking shade of tan.

The process works because of a chemical called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This chemical is actually colorless, but it interacts with the amino acids that naturally occur in skin cells. When they come into contact, the skin cells become several shades darker.

While the thought of spraying yourself with a chemical that causes your skin cells to turn brown may sound suspicious, DHA is totally safe. It has no known health risks, and it's been used for cosmetic reasons for decades.

The results from DHA tend to last no more than a week. If you want to sustain your lovely bronze glow, you'll have to pencil in frequent trips to your local spray tanning salon. But having a tan all winter long may just be worth it!

How To Get a Spray Tan

If you decide to get a spray, you have several options.

Spray Booth

If you decide to go to a local tanning salon, your tan will be applied in a spray booth. These booths are outfitted with several nozzles that emit tanning solution. You can have the solution applied to your entire body quickly and efficiently. If you prioritize an even application and are willing to make repeat visits to the salon, this may be a good option for you.

Airbrush Gun or Spray Gun

Many tanning artists schedule in-home appointments. They will use a ​portable tanning airbrush, which provides a similar level of control and consistency as tanning booths. You won't have streaks or dreaded tan lines, and you won't even have to leave your house!

If you become particularly interested in the spray tan process, you may even want to invest in an at-home spray tan machine. With a little practice you can learn to use portable products to get desirable results.

Self Tanning

When visiting your local beauty supply store or pharmacy, you've probably noticed the rows of self tanning products. These products also use the chemical DHA to alter the skin's color. This is the most cost effective way to stay tan, but it can be time consuming and difficult to apply evenly. 

The Benefits of Spray Tanning

Professional spray tanning is simple, quick, and produces natural looking results. This beauty solution has many celebrity fans because of its myriad benefits.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of spray tans is the beautiful, customizable results. Some people are afraid that they'll come out of the tanning booth looking orange, but this is easily avoided. Most spray tanning salons work with clients to create customized color solutions. It doesn't matter whether you're starting out ghostly pale or with an olive skin tone; they can help you achieve a tan that works with your skin.

It's Quick and Simple

The process is also simple. When using over the counter self tanning products, a few contortions are required to achieve full coverage. When you use a tanning booth, you simply remove your clothes and let the multiple spray guns do the work. You're in and out of the booth in minutes! The tanning solution also dries quickly, so you don't need to worry about getting it on your clothes, bed sheets, or loved ones.

Spray tanning can also help you achieve impressive all-over results. Even after a day on the beach, your face, hands, and feet might be lacking that perfect golden glow. Spray tanning gives you control over the final result, which helps you achieve a stunning head to toe tan.

Tanning Bed Vs Spray Tanning

While spray tanning has no known health risks, tanning beds have many. The concentrated UV rays used in tanning beds can damage the skin, causing premature aging and even skin cancer (Tanning bed increases risk of skin cancer by 75%). The solution used in spray tanning won't damage the skin, and many tanning salons actually mix the solution with skin-enhancing ingredients. When you walk out of the tanning booth, you won't merely have a newly golden glow; you may also have healthier skin.

The Cost of Airbrush Tanning

The price of spray tanning varies by salon, but most places charge from $25 to $50 per session. If you want to maintain your tan, it could cost you between $100 and $200 every month. Many spray tanning salons offer special discounts for frequent customers, however, in the form of monthly memberships or package deals.

When searching for a spray tanning salon, the internet is your best resource. Start on review aggregate websites like Yelp, which will help you find the most popular salons in your area. When you've narrowed down your search, assess them using your own criteria. Perhaps location is most important to you. Maybe you're looking for a salon that offers a great deal on monthly memberships. Just make sure the salon you choose is clean, hygienic, and well ventilated.

How to Prepare for Spray Tan

If you want to maximize your spray tan results, it's important to start with the perfect canvas. The best way to do this? Show up with skin ready to be sprayed.

Before Your Tanning Session

Must Do

  • Before you set foot in the salon, take a shower
  • Exfoliate your skin with a scrub or exfoliant
  • Shave
  • Do threading and waxing
  • All of this primes your skin, so that the skin cells have the appropriate reaction to the chemicals in the tanning solution.


  • After your shower, don't apply any unnecessary moisturizers or products to your skin.
  • Lotions, makeup, and perfume can create a barrier between the skin and the tanning solution. It's best to arrive to your tanning session freshly scrubbed and exfoliated.

Finally, if it's raining on the day of your appointment, remember to bring an umbrella!

During Your Tanning Session

On the day of your tanning session, it's important to wear the right clothing.

What To Wear

  • You should forgo tight fitted garments, and it's a good idea to wear dark colors.
  • You should also be careful about the undergarments you choose to wear. Some people wear their bras while in the tanning booth, while others prefer to take theirs off.
  • If you take your bra off, however, it's not always a good idea to put it back on immediately after tanning, as it can affect your results.
  • To make sure you are safe during your session, always wear protective eye gear (tanning booth glasses should work fine at keeping the spray mist out of eyes).
  • You should also use nose filters, which can prevent unnecessary inhalation.
  • To make sure none of the mist gets in your mouth, always wear lip balm.

Immediate Post Tan Care

The first twelve hours after your appointment are crucial. The most important aspect of immediate care is to avoid all water and moisture.

How long do you have to wait to shower after spray tan?

You shouldn't take a shower for 10 to 12 hours after tanning. You should also avoid activities that might cause sweat.

Any unnecessary wetness can negatively impact the results of your tanning session.

You should also be careful when performing routine activities during this time frame. Doing the dishes, drinking beverages, and brushing your teeth can affect your tan.

If you are going to bed without showering, try to wear pajamas that cover as much skin as possible. Long sleeves and long pants are ideal. This prevents the tanning solution from transferring to your sheets or shifting around your skin.

Long Term Care

Your tanning results are caused by a chemical reaction in the skin cells. To prolong your tan, you need to treat your skin gently. Don't exfoliate with harsh scrubs. Try to use products that don't contain fragrances. After a shower, pat your skin until it's dry.

There are certain products you should avoid, including: acne treatments, hair removal creams, facial brushes, and self tanners.

It's also a good idea to moisturize regularly. Hydrating your skin helps maintain your results and also ensures that your tan fades evenly. Try to apply lotion to the face and body twice a day if possible.


How long does a spray tan last?

The length your spray tan lasts depends on a number of factors, ranging from your age to your body chemistry to your after care. On average, however, spray tans last between 5 and 10 days.

How safe is airbrush tanning?

Airbrush tanning is very safe, with just a couple exceptions. Read more about the risks and hazards associated with airbrush tanning.​

How do I get the spray tan off of my hands?

If you get spray tan solution on the palms of your hands, it's best to remove it with a hand wipe or antibacterial gel or Windex.

How long do spray tanning sessions take?

Spray tanning sessions typically last about 30 minutes. You'll be in and out in no time!

How often can I get airbrush tanned?

As often as you want. Tanning solution dyes your outer skin layer. This means you probably don’t need to tan anymore often than 6-8 days, the time it takes for you to shed that outer layer of skin cells.​

What is DHA?

DHA, or dihydroxyacetone, is the active ingredient in tanning solution. DHA is chemically derived from sugar. When applied to skin, it reacts with proteins and turns them darker. The more DHA applied and the longer it stays on the skin the darker the results.

Of all the sunless tanning chemicals, DHA is by far the safest. It penetrates the outer layer of dead skin cells. That’s it.