March 26, 2017

Five easy steps to a beautiful and long-lasting spray tan

Want a golden glow, but intimidated by spray tans? This all-inclusive guide to salon spray tanning breaks it down, step-by-step. Whether you're in an automated booth or in a room with a technician, following these tips will ensure a stunning before and after from your sunless tan!

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Looking for a golden glow to show off at weddings, graduations, and other events packed into your warm-weather schedule? A salon spray tan is a great option!

Spray tanning can be intimidating – after all, no one wants to be the girl who looks like an oompa loompa, has a giant white streak up her otherwise-tanned leg, or whose face is 6 shades lighter than her body (Trust me – I speak from experience). With proper care before, during, and after your spray tan, you can get great, long-lasting color every time – let me show you how in 5 easy steps!

Step 1: Exfoliate

Exfoliating creates a good foundation for an even and long-lasting spray tan by preparing your skin for color. It removes the dead cells at the top of your skin, allowing the spray tan to penetrate to the newer cells beneath.

How to do it

It’s best to exfoliate at the end of a shower or long bath, once your skin has had time to soak and absorb some moisture. Using a wet washcloth, loofah, sponge, etc, gently rub your skin in circular motions. I prefer to start at my feet and work my way up. If you have sensitive skin or have never spray tanned before, I suggest that you exfoliate 24 to 48 hours before your spray tan, as the spray tan solution can irritate sensitive or recently-exfoliated skin.

Why it’s important

You may be tempted to skip exfoliation – don’t. Failing to exfoliate can result in a patchy, uneven, short-wearing tan because the dry, dead cells in the top layer of your skin will absorb most of the solution, and will be shed (unevenly) in a matter of days through the natural turnover of skin cells.

Step 2: Wear Appropriate Clothing and Follow All Salon Instructions

Whether you use an automated spray booth or a technician to get your glow, your salon will have some specific instructions for you – and you should follow them (Unless they “instruct” you to purchase an additional product)! They want you to look your best, after all, because their reputation depends on it.

Dress for success

You’ll want to wear dark, loose-fitting clothing and flip-flops to your spray tan. Whatever you wear will likely get stained, and tight or restrictive clothing could cause you to sweat, which can affect the development of your tan (More on that in Step 3).

If you’re new to spray tanning

I recommend that if you have never spray tanned before, you should start with the lightest or second-lightest shade available. You can always opt for a deeper shade once you know the ropes. If you’re not quite sure which level of color to choose, a good consultant will be able to offer great advice based on your coloring and skin tone. If you’re new to spray tanning and want a tan for an important event, do a dry run a week or so in advance so you can work out any kinks and know what to expect from the process.

Posture and position matter – a lot

Pay close attention to the spraying positions, especially for an automated spray booth. Placing an arm or leg incorrectly can result in a portion of your skin not being sprayed, causing a “seam” or white streak on your skin – not attractive! If in doubt about how to hold your arms or legs during the spray session, ask a salon consultant for advice.

Spray safely and protect the areas you don’t want to tan – hair, palms, nails

The FDA has approved spray tanning solution for external use only. To keep the spray tan solution from entering your body, you’ll want to wear lip balm, close your eyes and mouth during spraying, and use nose plugs (Some salons offer them for an additional fee, or you can use bits of facial tissue to plug your nostrils).

Good salons will offer a disposable hair net to keep the spray solution off of your hair. If not, a shower cap works just as well.

If the salon offers a barrier cream, use it liberally on your palms. You can also apply a thin layer to areas of your skin that may tend to be dry, such as your elbows, knees, and the backs of your heels. Barrier cream prevents DHA (The active chemical in spray solution) from penetrating your skin, and will save you from having Cheeto-colored palms (All of the orange, none of the yum). It will also keep dry areas of your skin from soaking up too much of the spray solution, which will cause them to appear much darker than the rest of your skin.

If barrier cream is not available, simply apply a little lotion to the drier areas of your skin before heading to the salon, and take along a baby wipe to wipe your palms down after your spray tan session is complete.

Nail it (Or don’t)

A little bonus tip – The spray tan solution will stain your nails. If you’re sans-mani/pedi, apply a layer of clear polish to fingernails and toenails in preparation for your spray tan. The polish will act as a barrier, leaving you with clean, fresh-looking nails.

Step 3: Develop Your Tan Properly by Avoiding Sweating and Moisture

A fact of life: Spray tans and water don’t mix. You’ll need to avoid getting your skin wet (Including excessive sweating) for a minimum of 4 hours (I recommend 6 to 8 hours) while your tan develops. Specifically, you will want to avoid washing your hands, as well as wearing socks and/or tight shoes (Flip-flops are okay).

Night time is the right time

If you don’t have 6 to 8 hours to sit around your house avoiding activity and not washing your hands after you use the restroom, I have a solution: Spray tan just before bed, since you won’t be doing anything for the next several hours anyway. Place an old flat sheet on top of your pillow and bed (Tuck a bit of the sheet under the bottom of the pillow for ease of movement) and sleep in the clothes you wore to your spray tan. I’ve been doing this for years. I have a set of old sweats that I wear just for spray-tanning, as well as an old blanket to keep me warm while my tan develops overnight.

Step 4: Moisturize

Remember when we talked about sloughing off dry, dead skin cells through exfoliation? After you spray tan, you’ll want to keep those cells hydrated for as long as possible to help your tan last. That’s why it’s important to moisturize daily and after every bath or shower. Moisturizing will help extend the life of your spray tan (5 to 7 days is about the maximum you can expect your tan to look well), and will help your tan wear more evenly.

Step 5: Maintain

Speaking of wearing evenly… your spray tan will not wear evenly. Areas of your skin that are subject to more frequent cleansing or friction – think face, hands, and feet – will loose color more quickly, because these are natural forms of exfoliation.

Touch up your tan at home

To keep your skin all one color, you’ll want to have a sunless tanner product on-hand at home for touch-ups. This also comes in handy if the automated spray booth or salon technician missed a spot during your session, and you end up with a white streak on an arm, leg, etc. – a simple touch-up at home is all it takes to fix.

Choosing a product for touch-ups

There are almost endless options when it comes to at-home products, and they come in many different forms – creams, gels, and foams, in addition to sprays. I prefer to use a spray product at home because they dry quickly and provide even coverage (This one from Ulta is my current favorite), but find a product form that works best for you.

In my experience, it doesn’t make much difference if your at-home product is a different brand than the salon’s spray solution – as long as they are in the same shade family. Most at-home products are categorized as light/medium or medium/deep. Choose one that makes sense based on the shade you chose at the salon.

Also keep in mind that a tinted (Also called a color guide) product provides some immediate color while the tan develops (For instant relief of ghost-white hands, feet, or face), whereas a non-tinted product (Without a color guide) only provides color after the tan has developed. For touch-ups, I prefer products with a color guide because they provide some immediate color, and also help ensure that I haven’t missed a spot.

When to touch up

I generally have to touch up my hands and feet about 3 days after my spray tan session, and I have to spray my face every morning (You can also spray your face before bed and put an old sheet or extra pillowcase over your pillow to avoid staining). Keep an eye on how your tan is wearing, and when your hands, face, or feet start to look a little pale, you’ll know it’s time for a touch-up.

Where to touch up

I do touch-up sprays on my hands, feet, and face in my tub/shower after showering, and rinse my entire tub/shower immediately after spraying. Using a spray product in an unprotected area will stain the walls, flooring, and any furniture nearby. If you’re using anything other than a spray product, you obviously don’t need to apply the product in a protected area such as your shower. If you’re touching up your feet with a non-spray product, you can simply stand on an old towel.

How to touch up

Apply your touch-up product to the desired area, and overlap it just a bit onto the still-tanned skin nearby to avoid a line between them. You can blot excess product from your skin if needed, but DO NOT WIPE IT! You’ll end up with streaks. Always wash your hands after doing touch-ups at home (Or wipe your palms with a baby wipe if you’ve sprayed the backs of your hands). Follow the instructions on your touch-up product’s packaging for best results.

Facial touch-ups

If you wear foundation, you’ll need to have a shade on-hand that matches your post-spray tan skin – you don’t want a tan neck next to a pale face! Keep in mind that spray tan solution won’t be effective on skin that has already been treated with a heavy moisturizer, and you cannot layer products over a sprayed-on product, or you’ll end up with streaks. There are lots of great moisturizers out there that include a gradual sunless tanner, so you might consider incorporating one of those into your skincare routine instead.

As stated above, you can gently blot excess product to avoid having a too-tanned face, but do not wipe. You’ll end up with streaks. I also make myself a cool toilet paper headband (I know you’re jealous!) to protect my hair from staining when spraying my face. If you’d rather not use a spray product on your face, there are lots of sunless foams, gels, and creams that are specially formulated for facial use. Find one that fits your needs, and just be sure to follow the instructions.

A word of caution

Sunless tanner will stain grout, caulk, and natural stone. If you’re using a spray product and you have ceramic tile or a fiberglass shower, you’ll need to rinse your entire tub/shower immediately after spraying. If you have natural stone in your shower, I would not recommend using a spray product. You may be better off choosing a non-spray product, such as a foam, gel, or cream, for your touch-ups.


Getting a flawless spray tan can be tricky. With proper care before, during, and after your tan, a perfect bronze glow is within reach. Let’s recap the 5 simple steps to a beautiful and long-lasting spray tan:

  • Exfoliate
  • Follow salon instructions and wear appropriate clothing
  • Avoid sweating and moisture for at least 4 hours after your spray tan
  • Moisturize your skin to extend the life of your tan
  • Maintain your tan at home by using a sunless tanner on faster-wearing areas of your body (Typically face, hands, and feet)

Thanks so much for joining me today at ShowMe Suburban to get the lowdown on getting the most out of a spray tan. What tips do you have to get a gorgeous golden glow? Share them in the comments below!

ShowMe Suburban | 5 Easy Steps to a Beautiful and Long-Lasting Spray Tan


Want a golden glow, but intimidated by spray tans? This all-inclusive guide to salon spray tanning breaks it down, step-by-step.  Whether you're in an automated booth or in a room with a technician, following these tips will ensure a stunning before and after from your sunless tan!

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