How you prep your skin is SO important.

By Erin Lukas and Victoria Moorhouse
Updated Apr 20, 2020 @ 7:00 pm
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I remember when spray tans made their big debut in my high school. It was shortly after everyone acknowledged just how dangerous tanning beds really are. The spray-tan concept seemed totally foreign, and the fear of leaving the salon completely orange and splotchy before prom night was real. I even remember seeing the mishaps, too.

Since 2005, spray tans have gotten much, much better, but it’s still a category that is filled with a lot of confusion. For example, if you don’t prep your skin for a spray tan the right way, even the best spray tan won’t last very long.

From prep to after-care, I talked to two beauty professionals to get the rundown on everything you need to know about spray tans.

What's In a Spray Tan Formula?

If the sun's rays aren't doing any of the work, what is making your skin appear tanner? The main ingredient in spray-tan formulas is DHA, according Jules Von Hep, a celebrity spray tanner and co-founder of self-tanning brand Isle of Paradise. "This reacts with your amino acids to give the illusion of a tan. DHA is like milk. It can come in many different formats — think whole, skim, 1%, organic. From my experience, organic DHA gives the best results."

Should You Moisturize Before a Spray Tan?

Be careful with body lotion before your spray tan. "You want to avoid heavy body lotions on the day of your spray tan, as this can interfere with the tan development," says Sophie Evans, the St. Tropez skin-finishing expert. However, you should make sure that commonly dry areas, like your elbows, knees, hands, wrists, feet, and back of the heels, are well moisturized. Evans explains that this will prevent an uneven spray tan.

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Should You Remove Body Hair Before Getting a Spray Tan?

If you want to remove your body hair, you should do it prior to your appointment. If you wax, this should be done a full 24 hours prior, explains Evans. "This will ensure the hair follicles have settled and that you'll get a perfect finish," she says. You should also exfoliate a few days before your spray tan.

What happens if you forgot to shave? You can shave right before, but Von Hep says to avoid using a shaving oil, as it can form a film on the skin and the tan won't penetrate properly. Shave and then splash the skin with cold water to calm the skin.

Can You Wear Makeup or Deodorant?

Before your spray tan, you should cleanse your skin of any makeup, fragrance, or product. This will help your spray tan apply in an even, flawless finish.

What Should You Wear to Get a Spray Tan?

Sometimes product transfer occurs right after your spray tan is applied. To avoid this, wear dark clothes. Be sure they are loose to prevent straps or tight clothes from causing indentations or streaks in the tan.

How Long Do Spray Tans Last?

Expect your tan to last five to ten days, but its lifespan is dependent on a few factors. "The longevity of the tan varies due to someone’s lifestyle, beauty/skincare routine, and the pre- and post-tan care," says Alexandra DiMarchi, global tanning expert for Tan-Luxe. "The shade you chose also determines this. For example: if someone wants a light skin finish, it may fade off quicker due to a lighter application" (More information on after-care later.)

Hormones can also come into play. Von Hep says he's noticed that some of his clients' skin doesn't take to the tan as well if they're getting it done the week before they're due to start their period or on their period.

How Long After Your Spray Tan Do You Have to Wait to Shower?

How quick you can shower after depends on what type of spray tan you have received. However, according to Von Hep, the general rule is to wait four to six hours before getting in the shower. You should also avoid sweating, getting wet, or applying body product. Another key is staying hydrated — that means drinking water and regularly moisturizing. "Happy, hydrated skin won’t shed and will hold onto the color for longer," says Von Hep. "If you’re on a long-haul flight, try to not drink alcohol as this encourages the tan to fade due to the dehydration on the skin. Avoid hot showers and baths with oils as well as chlorinated water if you can."

How Can You Maintain Your Spray Tan At Home?

"I maintain a glow by applying self-tan to my entire body, followed by two consecutive days of rich moisturizer. Then, I apply a hit of Isle of Paradise Happy Tan to my body to lift the color back up. Two days after, I begin the scrub process, lightly exfoliating the top coat of tan off, and then apply my next coat of self-tan," says Von Hep.

Von Hep notes that your tan wll fade on your face faster than the rest of your body because of the skincare products you use. He recommends adding Isle of Paradise's Self Tan Drops to your moisturizer or serum to help revive your sun-kissed glow.

When you reach day five of your spray tan, Dimarchi suggests switching your body lotion for a gradual self-tanning lotion. She likes Tan-Luxe's The Gradual Tan. "[This is] amazing to touch up with especially during the warmer months because it’s a lightweight formula that absorbs into your skin," she says. "This product will be your best friend if you live in an area with lots of humidity."

How Do You Avoid or Fix Streaks?

To avoid them, especially when self-tanning at home, Evans says you need to use enough product. Streaks and patches are typically caused by not using enough product and over-rubbing the skin. She recommends using enough product so the tan glides easily over your skin.

"If you need to fix a mistake fast, like dark marks or streaks, the quickest way is to apply baby oil to the darker area and leave for 10 minutes. This allows the exfoliation to be more effective," says Evans. "Scrub the skin with an exfoliator, then use a hot, damp wash cloth to buff the skin." She also says you can try hair removal cream. Apply it with a Q-tip on the darker area and leave on for only half of the recommended time.

How Do You Remove a Spray Tan?

For the most part, the best option is really letting it fade. If you want to expedite the process, Evans recommends using an astringent toning product or micellar water to remove the self-tan from the face. "For sensitive skin, cleanse first, lightly exfoliate with a facial scrub, then apply astringent with a cotton ball and sweep over dark areas of self-tan. Finish with your favorite moisturizer to hydrate."

How Do You Get Spray Tan Off of Your Hands?

The key to making sure your hands don't get over-tanned? Moisturize before getting a spray tan. "Remember immediately after you have your tan applied to wipe your palms, in-between your fingers using a cloth soaked in micellar water, and buff your knuckles on a dry towel to remove excess tanning solution," says Von Hep.

For a quick fix, there's pre-made tan eraser. Isle of Paradise's Tan Eraser and Tan-Luxe Glyco Water are two effective options. Dimarchi says to take a warm shower and exfoliate your hands afterwards for the best results.

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How Can You Get Rid of Spray Tan Stains?

Products with guide colors are prone to leaving stains on clothes, bedding, and your couch. That's why Dimarchi recommends using a tanner that's made with without guide colors or bronzers. "DHA in its pure form is clear and develops when it hits your skin. This is the only way to ensure no mess," she says.

If you do end up with orange streaks on your sheets, a stain remover may be able to get them out, but there's no guarantee. To avoid stains on your clothing, follow the aforementioned guidelines on what to wear to your spray tan appointment.

How Much Does a Spray Tan Cost?

The price of a spray tan will vary based on where you live, the salon, and whether the tanning expert is coming to your house to do it. That being said, $50 to $75 is the typical going rate for a temporary head-to-toe sun-kissed glow.