Spray Tanning and Sunless Tanning

Also known as:

Fake Bake, Fake Tan, St Tropez Tan

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Whether it’s legs-out weather or the dead of winter, there’s something about having glowy bronzed skin that immediately makes you feel better. Haven’t got a trip to the Mediterranean planned anytime soon? (Or just don’t want to face those pesky UV rays?) Fret not - a spray tan will give you that post-hol glow whenever you fancy. If you’re new to the world of spray tanning - it can seem a little daunting. You’ve probably got *all* the questions before you take the plunge - that’s where we come in. From your “how long does it last” to your “do I have to get naked?” - we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about spray tans and sunless tanning.

What is a spray tan?

Let’s face it - spray tans haven’t had the best PR in the past (no thanks to the signature orange-tinted glows that ruled the 00s). These days, though, the world of spray tanning has evolved into a subtle art form, with practitioners perfecting the art of the natural, glowy, sun-kissed look. Perfect if you’re prepping for an event and haven’t dared to get your legs out for a while (we feel you).

So, what exactly is a spray tan? Spray tanning is designed to temporarily deepen your skin tone and add a natural-looking glow. The result is achieved by evenly covering your body in a tanning solution - which can be applied in several ways. You can opt for a specialised tanning booth - a machine which uses jets and nozzles to spray you with the mist. Or, you can opt to go to a practitioner - who will use a spray gun to apply the solution. The mist quickly absorbs into the skin, leaving you with a healthy bronzed glow from head to toe.

How does spray tanning work?

Here comes the sciencey bit. The tanning solution contains an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This ingredient forms a chemical reaction with your own skin - reacting with naturally occurring amino acids such as histidine, arginine, and lysine. This reaction produces brown compounds known as melanoidins, which give the skin a bronzed appearance. Sounds pretty complicated, (and kind of scary), we know, but don’t worry - spray tanning is totally safe for your skin.

How to prepare for a spray tan

Say it with us: prep is key when it comes to achieving a flawless spray tan, so here are a few things you should know:

  • Exfoliation is your best friend - you should try to exfoliate your whole body (but especially areas prone to dryness such as elbows and knees) around 48-24 hours prior to your spray tan. Getting rid of all of those dead layers of skin will mean a more even, less splotchy, and longer-lasting tan.
  • If you shave or wax, it’s best to do this prior to your appointment (as doing it afterwards can speed up the fading process). Aim for around 24-48 for this as well - too close to your appointment and the pores may still be open - leading to ‘strawberry legs’. That’s when the solution settles into your follicles and creates black dots - not a great look.
  • The same goes for showering - don’t shower too close to your appointment - the night before if possible - so that your pores have time to close. If you end up doing any of the above closer to your appointment than advised - it’s not the end of the world, but do try to rinse in cold water afterwards to close up your pores.
  • Try to avoid any creams, lotions, perfumes, or oils on your body prior to your appointment, as they can stop the tanning solution from properly absorbing into the skin.
  • It’s best not to wear any makeup or deodorant to your appointment - both of these can act as barriers to the tanning solution. If you do wear either of these, then you should remove them when you get to the appointment. Your practitioner may provide makeup wipes, but it could be worth bringing your own just in case.
  • It’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing to your appointment, as tight clothes can rub off the tanning solution immediately after the appointment, causing unevenness. Flip flops are also a good idea for the same reason. It’s also recommended to wear darker or old clothes so that the guide colour in the solution doesn’t stain and damage them.
  • Lastly, try and have an idea of how ‘deep’ of a shade you want before your appointment. You can prepare reference or inspo pics, or even take a pic of yourself with a natural tan - to make sure your practitioner knows the result you’d like.

What should I expect at my spray tan appointment?

The exact process of spray tanning will differ from salon to salon and from practitioner to practitioner, but there are a few things that you can generally expect from your appointment.

  • Firstly, your therapist should give you a quick consultation to ask what kind of colour you’re after. This bit’s important - try and have an idea of how ‘deep’ of a shade you want before your appointment. Here’s where you can show If you’re getting a spray tan for a specific event, let them know that too. They may suggest a deeper shade if you want your tan to last a while, or a lighter one if your event is soon.
  • You should also tell the practitioner about any skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis etc.) at this point.
  • Secondly, your practitioner will leave the room and ask you to undress (this is the daunting part, we know). BUT - fear not, it’s actually a lot less scary than it seems. This is a judgement-free zone, and your therapist will have seen it all before. So, if you’re after a tan-line free look, don’t be afraid to bare it all. You can also keep your underwear on if you wish, but just be aware you’ll most definitely have tan lines. It’s best to opt for something minimal like a thong and to make sure you position your underwear so that your tan lines aren’t wonky. Plus, forewarning - your underwear will likely be stained, so opt for dark (or old) underwear. Make sure to remove any jewellery, too.
  • Your therapist should offer you something to protect your hair - make sure to keep your ears out here. They may also offer you disposable underwear, which you can wear during the appointment and/or to head home in. Lastly, they may also give you sticky foot pads to step onto to protect the soles of your feet (trust us on this one, they’re great).
  • Finally, your practitioner will begin the treatment. Each salon is different, so just make sure to follow their instructions - they should tell you how to position yourself and move to get the best results.

What should you do post-spray tan?

  • Once your practitioner is finished, they should wipe down the palms of your hands, as well as your nails, to avoid any unwanted staining.
  • Your tan may look a little darker and less perfect immediately after your tan. Don’t panic - this is just the guide colour, and will rinse off for the final result when you take a shower. You might also smell a little like biscuits - this is totally normal (as anyone who’s tried fake tan will know). Modern formulas aren’t usually too bad though, and again it’ll fade after a shower.
  • The tan will be fully developed after around 6-8 hours, at which point you can take a shower. If you leave it on any longer though (overnight, for example) - don’t worry, it won’t develop any more. Just be aware that if your formula included a guide colour, it may stain your bedsheets (or fave PJs).

The results?

The end result of your spray tan will of course depend on which shade you’ve opted for, but in general, it should be an even, glowy, bronzed and sunkissed look. It’s also important to mention that spray tans are for everyone - it’s not just about adding some bronze, but more about adding an extra glow - the result can really look great on everyone. Think of it as a ‘just got back from my hols’ feeling.

If it’s your first time, be aware that spray tans can totally differ from person to person. Just like some people may be a little more resistant to alcohol, some people’s skin may also be a little more resistant to the chemicals that cause the tanning reaction in your skin. After a couple of visits, your therapist will be able to determine exactly the shade and formula you need.

The end result of your spray tan will of course depend on which shade you’ve opted for, but in general, it should be an even, glowy, bronzed and sunkissed look. It’s also important to mention that spray tans are for everyone - it’s not just about adding some bronze, but more about adding an extra glow - the result can really look great on everyone. Think of it as a ‘just got back from my hols’ feeling.

How long does a spray tan last?

Guidelines for how long your spray tan will last vary, but experts usually say around 5-12 days. This is dependent on a tonne of factors, though, including what shade you opt for. Solutions with more DHA (which will be the darker shades) will last longer. It also depends on how you care for your skin both before and after the appointment. Which leads us on to...

###Top tips for how to make your spray tan last longer

  • Make sure to leave your tan on for the full development time immediately after your appointment (usually around 6-8 hours, but your practitioner will tell you if it’s any different). During this time, don’t shower, use soap, or get wet in any way (checking the weather for rain is always a good idea - nobody wants raindrop marks all over their fresh tan).
  • Follow all the prep instructions above, as well as any your practitioner mentions to make sure you’ve got a great base for your tan.
  • Once your tan has developed, you’re free to use soap, bodywash, and body lotions - but try to avoid anything oily. A lot of oils can strip your tan - so keep this in mind.
  • One of the best ways to make your tan last longer is to keep your skin hydrated and moisturised. Dry skin will shed quicker, taking the tan with it. Again though, avoid products with oils such as coconut oil, mineral oil, and grapeseed oil.
  • If you’re into hair removal, and you really want to prolong your tan, it may be worth considering waxing prior to your tan, so that you don’t need to shave in the days following your appointment. Shaving can remove layers of skin which in turn takes away the tan, so it’s best to avoid this if possible.
  • Lastly, your face and hands will likely fade a lot quicker than the rest of your body. If this is the case, it could be worth using a small amount of gradual self-tanner to top up these areas and keep everything even.

How much does a spray tan cost?

How much you're going to pay for a spray tan really depends on the salon, the practitioner, as well as where you live and your individual tan needs. Some venues offer partial tans (just legs or arms, for example), which are obviously much cheaper. In general, the price can vary from just £15 to around £200 (but again - every salon is different).


Do you spray tan your face?

This depends on what you’d prefer, but in general: yes. Make sure your face is clear of makeup and products beforehand to ensure an even result.

Should I shave before a spray tan?

If you usually shave, then make sure to do this around 24-48 hours before your appointment to give the pores time to close, otherwise they could end up being blocked by product, which results in black dots on the skin.

Can I get a spray tan when pregnant?

Spray tanning is safe to do when pregnant, but make sure to mention it to your practitioner upon booking. As your skin will be more sensitive than usual, a patch test may be necessary to ensure that there’s no adverse reaction to the formula.

How long does a spray tan take to develop?

This depends on the formula used - it’s usually around 6-8 hours, but can be shorter or longer. It’s best to ask your practitioner if you have any doubts.

Does a spray tan prevent you from getting a real tan

Definitely not - it’s important to know that a spray tan has zero effect on your skin’s resistance to UV rays, and offers no protection against the sun - you’ll need just as much sun tan lotion as usual.

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Questions and answers about Spray Tanning and Sunless Tanning