How Do Spray Tans Work?

No matter what season you are in right now, a beautiful summer tan glow never goes out of style. But to achieve that sun-kissed glow, it must be a healthy tan. There are multiple choices of sunless tanning, and I highly recommend to get a spray tan. 

You might be wondering, how do spray tans work? Is spray tanning safe? All these questions and more are covered in this article! I will be sharing several spray tan options, their benefits, things to do, and how to take care of your tan in the long term.

Key Takeaways

  • Spray tanning is the healthiest and hassle-free method of getting a tan.
  • A tanning product usually contains DHA, but it is proven safe and FDA-approved for cosmetic use.
  • Spray tans work best and last longer if you diligently follow the do’s and don’ts before, during, and after the procedure.

What is a Spray Tan?

A spray tan is the most sought self-tanning and sunless tanning method. An active ingredient called DHA is sprayed on your skin like a fine mist. DHA interacts with your skin’s dead skin cells in the epidermis or the outer layer of your skin. Your dead skin cells have amino acids that create a chemical reaction to the DHA and make your skin turn tan.


DHA, or a chemical called dihydroxyacetone, is FDA approved for cosmetic use. It is proven to be non-carcinogenic and non-toxic. The DHA effect may last up to a week or so. The effect of spray tanning varies depending on the tanning solution and other factors. So, if you want to maintain a beautiful bronze glow, you may do so by following our long-term care procedure found in the latter part of this article.

Is spray tanning completely safe? Absolutely! This method of self-tanning is the most recommended because of its benefits, and it does not pose any known health risks. Unlike a tanning bed and tanning under the sun, spray tan does not expose your skin to the sun’s harmful UV rays that may lead to skin cancer.

Spray Tan Options

If you’re still not convinced about getting a spray tan or looking for the perfect spray tan, I have several spray tan options below that you can choose from. 

Moreover, take note that spray tanning costs vary from one another. Head on to this article to know more.


Self-tanning is the cheapest spray tan option as you may purchase your self-tanning products from the pharmacy, local stores, or even online. However, a downside of this is that it can be challenging to apply evenly. In addition, it may take up so much of your time, especially if it is your first time and not that knowledgeable yet on the whole process.

Nevertheless, here are some products you might want to try:

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Related: What are the best DHA-free self-tanners?

Airbrush or Spray Gun

A spray tanning salon may ask you what you prefer to use during your spray tanning session. Airbrush tanning is more intricate and a go-to method if you want to highlight your tan in a specific part of your body. Should you wish to emphasize the perfect golden glow in your abs, face, chest, or torso, this is the ideal option for you. Spray tanning professionals may either use a regular airbrush gun or couture ones, depending on the tan you want to achieve.

On the other hand, a spray gun is a more cost-effective option than airbrush tanning. It is not time-consuming and covers more areas per spray mist. It is a perfect choice should you want to tan your entire body.

Spray Booth

A visit to your local spray tanning salon usually has a spray tanning booth as an option. A spray tanning booth makes tanning more efficient as it has several nozzles that will spray tanning solution in your body. To even out your tan and prolong it longer, it is best to have frequent spray tan appointments at the tanning salon of your choice.

How Do Spray Tans Work?

Now that you know various options to choose from in your spray tanning session, let me provide you with a guide on preparing your skin and some tips on maximizing your beautiful tan.

Pre-Spray Tan Procedure

Before your spray tan appointment or session, here are the things you should do and avoid doing:


  • Take a shower – Ensure that your skin’s clean, fresh, and ready.
  • Exfoliate – Before the tanning session, freshly scrubbed skin is the best base to go. It will remove dead skin cells and prep your skin to have the perfect tan.
  • Shave, wax, and/or thread – This will serve as your primer so that your skin will react and absorb the tanning solution even better. Do this at least twelve hours before the actual session.
  • Bring an umbrella – If you’re going to a spray tan salon, don’t forget to have an umbrella with you for UV protection and keep you dry if it’s raining on the day of your appointment.


  • Unnecessary moisturizers – avoid applying moisturizers on your skin after showering and before your tanning session.
  • Lotions, perfumes, and makeup  – avoid applying these as well. These will prevent the spray tan solution from penetrating your skin.

During Spray Tan Procedure

Let’s delve into what you should wear during the session:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing – Avoid using tight and fit clothes on the day of your appointment. 
  • Wear Dark Colors – It’s highly recommended that people wear dark-colored garments, too.
  • Wear protective eye gear – Eye gear such as tanning booth glasses will keep your eyes safe during the procedure.
  • Wear lip balm – This will protect your mouth from having tanning solution mists.
  • Use nose filters – During the spray tanning process, this can help you prevent unnecessary inhalation.
  • Use of undergarments – It varies based on your preference, but it’s best not to wear your bra after spray tanning.

Post-Spray Tan Procedure

This is the most crucial part of the spray tanning procedure. Take note that you should follow these tips for the first twelve hours after you get a spray tan:

  • Avoid water and moisture at all costs
  • Do not take a shower – Showering right after tanning will significantly affect the result of your tan.
  • Wear clothes that will cover your tanned body  – It’s best to wear long sleeves and pajamas to prevent the tanning solution or tanning products from staining your sheets and covers.
  • Be mindful of your routine activities during this period – Usual activities like working out, drinking water or beverage, washing the dishes, or brushing your teeth may impact your tan. Remember that wetness and sweating can negatively affect the tan’s overall result.

Long-Term Care

A spray tan usually has a life span of three days up to ten days. Tanning results from the chemical reaction of spray tans’ active ingredient (DHA) to your skin cells. And it really depends on several factors – your skin’s chemistry, age, tanning spray solution, spray tan aftercare, etc. 

To preserve that good tan shade, check out these do’s and don’ts:


  • Moisturize Regularly – Apply lotion and moisturizing cream to avoid dry skin and keep your skin hydrated. It’s advisable to do this twice a day.
  • Treat your skin with utmost gentle care – An example of this is patting your skin until it dries after taking a shower.


  • Self-Tanners – This applies to those who opted for a spray booth or airbrush option. A trip to your tanning salons would be better than doing DIYs.
  • Exfoliate with harsh ingredients
  • Products that are not fragrance-free
  • Hair Removal Creams, Facial Brushes, and Acne Treatment products

Benefits of Spray Tanning


A lot of people, including celebrities like Ariana Grande and Gigi Hadid, rave about how good spray tanning is. If you’re still hesitant about it, these are some of the benefits of spray tanning:

  • Swift and straightforward – A tanning session is very simple, and you’ll have that bronze glow in less than an hour!
  • FDA-approved – If you’re worried about the chemical reaction, worry not! FDA approves DHA as a safe component of spray tans.
  • Cost-efficient and healthier option – Jumping onto the previous benefit, spray tanning is healthier because there’s no serious health risk or skin damage during the procedure. Moreover, it’s worth every penny!
  • Customizable to achieve a natural, healthy glow – You can check with the tanning salon’s professionals regarding the tan suitable for your skin tone. And they’ll be more than supportive of giving you a natural yet healthy tan glow.

Final Thoughts

Having natural-looking tanned skin is possible and more convenient through spray tanning. The whole process is swift and straightforward, so don’t forget the things you need to do before, during, and after your spray tan session. 

Head on to our tanning articles for more information about various ways of getting a tan.

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