How To Get The Perfect Spray Tan

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

While tanning is not a
healthy option, it doesn't mean you can't be pleasantly bronzed via other means.

Since Coppertone introduced the first sunless tanning lotion in the 1960s, fake tans have come a long way. Instead of a "one-color-fits-all" approach, fake tanning now offers lighter and darker options as well as different methods of application.

The basic ingredient in effective fake tans is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. It's a derivative of glycerin that temporarily darkens your skin by reacting with amino acids in dead skin cells. The ingredient has been approved by the FDA since the 1970s and comes in a variety of products. Some formulas are available in drugstores and others are limited to spray tanning salons. For now, we'll limit discussion to spray tans.

Spray tanning usually requires that you go to a salon. You can either tan in a booth or get an airbrush tan. The first, a spray tan booth, operates by releasing a fine mist of fake tanner solution. When it's finished (the whole process takes less than a minute), you towel off excess tanner solution and go. Over the next few hours, the DHA in the fake tanner will react with your skin and create a darker color. An airbrush tan involves a tanning technician personally spraying the tanning solution on you in order to make sure that no spots are missed. You can shower about four hours after the treatment.

Before you go for your spray tan, here are a few things to keep in mind:


Since DHA reacts with dead skin cells, patches of dry sky may result in uneven, blotchy coloring. The day before getting a spray tan, exfoliate your body with a loofah or scrub and moisturize well.


If you plan to shave or get a wax, do so before your spray treatment. Both of these hair removal options will also remove dead skin cells, which will make your fake tan fade more quickly.

Loose or Dark Clothing

Many spray tanners also include a bronzer to help you (or the tanning technician) see any missed spots. While the tanner itself will not stain clothing, the bronzer will. Wear loose or dark clothing to the salon and avoid white clothing or bedding until you have showered. If you do not feel comfortable being unclothed during the process, bring along a dark-colored bathing suit (two-piece is preferable for women).

Avoid Makeup, Deodorant, and Perfume

Some of these products may prevent the tanning solution from reacting with skin properly and others can even cause skin to turn green. Play safe and make sure there are no other cosmetics on your body before getting a spray tan.

DHA is safe for use externally, but not recommended for contact with mucous membranes. Any reputable spray tanning salon will provide you with both protective eyewear and a nose filter to prevent inhalation of DHA. To keep your spray tan from fading, moisturize diligently after your first shower and avoid exfoliating products.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.