Tips For Using Spray On Tan Products

Sunless tanning is emerging as the most practical and safest alternative to spending hours exposing oneself to the sun’s ultraviolet rays to get that bronzed look. While the methods range from lotions, gels, creams and sprays, machine modulated spray-on tans have emerged as the most popular because of their ease of use and uniform results. These involve getting ‘airbrushed’ inside a tanning booth with the option of an attending agent regulating the flow for first time users. They allow easy masking of areas like fingernails that frequently require cleaning after tanning. Salons also provide for special barrier lotions for feet and hands that tend to absorb more tanning spray and emerge darker. The result is a natural looking tan throughout the year without the hassle or danger of exposing oneself to the sun.

How Do They Work?

The active ingredient in all tanning products whether lotions or sprays is DHA or dihydroxyacetone. When applied to the skin, this compound reacts with the topmost layer to cause the darkening. The effects of the tan disappear in 5-7 days in the time that it takes for the skin cells to slough off. So contrary to widespread belief, the skin is not `painted’ on.

Areas such as elbows, feet and ankles have thick and rough skin and tend to absorb more tanning lotion making them relatively darker. Hence, it is important to ensure that they have a buffering lotion to prevent absorption in case you are using a spray tan booth. In case the spraying is done manually, these areas need to be treated with less DHA as compared to other body parts.


Too dark or patchy a tan can make the results look artificial making it worse than no tan at all. While there are products available at tanning salons to diminish the effects of tans gone wrong, here are some helpful tips to get the best tan.

  1. Exfoliate BEFORE the tan application to ensure that maximum possible dead cells are removed from the body. If you have to shave, shave BEFORE the application of the tan. Exfoliating or shaving after the tan spray will reduce the life of your tan.
  2. Ensure a barrier cream or adequate masking for areas that tend to absorb more tan. Speak to your attendant for help in this regard.
  3. It is best to go with a medium toned product not too many shades higher than your body. Anything too dark will not look natural.
  4. Some salons advise regular moisturizing with products that contain small amounts of DHA that enhance the longevity of the tan.
  5. Avoid the use of perfumes and antiperspirants before getting tanned since those areas will not absorb adequate color, leaving unsightly white patches.
  6. Another tip not related to the tan per se is waiting for 15-20 minutes before putting on your clothes to avoid getting them stained while the tan is still drying.

Tips For Safeguarding Your Tan

Given that most tans do not last for more than a week, it is important to take special care of your tan.

  1. Avoid long soapy showers and baths. Exfoliation as mentioned above is a complete no-no especially with oil based products.
  2. Oil Massages and applying sunscreen lotions above an SPF 30 also reduces the life of a tan. So while it is still not advisable to go outdoors without sunscreen protection, it will work against your `spray on tan’.
  3. Swimming is best avoided due to the chlorine in the pool which affects the tan adversely.
  4. Products containing AHA’s or alpha hydroxy acids (commonly found in anti-ageing creams and lotions) also work to kill your tan.

Can The Effects Of Tanning Be Reversed?

While it is difficult to immediately go back to looking like you did before you entered the tanning booth, it is possible to lighten the tan especially when you want to work on areas that have darkened more than others. You can rub lemon juice and leave it on for a few minutes. Even whitening toothpastes (that guarantee giving you whiter teeth) applied on the dark areas help. Many salons have specially designed products that help to achieve the same effect. Additionally you could do everything that you were supposed to avoid when you wanted your tan to last longer. So exfoliate, shave, swim and go get that massage!


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