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 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.
Should You Remove Body Hair Before?
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 Do You Take Care of a Spray Tan?
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."
You can also maintain your tan with at-home tanning products. "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.
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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."