How to get a great spray tan

Want to hear something crazy? People, more specifically the youth, are still using tanning beds. I see them on TikTok, talking about the UV index and their tanning routines. I’m over here, 39 years old, stressing out for them, assuming they just don’t know how to get a great spray tan.

While I’m aware of the streaky orange stereotype, by now, the spray tan game has evolved. There’s no reason you can’t get a beautiful, realistic spray tan these days and I’m here to tell you exactly how to do it.

When it comes to spray tans, I’ve done it all. From the mystics to the versa tans, the beginner spray tan artists to the established spray tan experts.

I’m also a professional makeup artist, with a heavy focus on weddings and special events, so I personally see a ton of spray tans up close. That has allowed me to see the good, the bad and the oh dear. 

Speaking of oh dear. While sometimes it’s the artist or the quality of the product used, often times, the client isn’t always right and they may be at fault for a poor result. 

I’m here to tell you how to avoid all the spray tan pitfulls and oopsies and make sure you get glowing and your money’s worth.


When it comes to spray tan services, you may have access to several options.

There are traditional tanning salons that still offer dangerous bed tanning, but alongside it, spray tan booths. These booths are often Mystic Tan or Versa Tan. You step inside a booth solo and are guided by a recorded voice. While some seem to make these work, my Versa Tan experience resulted in something my husband and I called my “Jersey Shore tan.”

There are also independent spray tan artists who work for themselves, either renting a room or coming to you as part of a mobile spray tan business.

If they are a mobile spray tan artist, they will bring a pop-up tent, enabling them to tan you in your home, mess free.

Then, there are dedicated spray tan studios, with multiple artists working under an owner. These studios have often grown as a result of one very successful spray tan artist who built a team to keep up with demand.

I’ve had the best results from dedicated tanning artists, rather than a place that offers multiple services, spray tanning just being one of them.

I find that spray tan artists, especially the ones with their own studio, take their craft seriously, prioritize good customer service and want to send out work they stand behind.

As with any service, reading reviews helps, however, a great spray tan is a combination of proper client prep, spray tan artistry and maintenance so read the negative reviews you might find with a discerning eye.


If your tan is for an event, the common recommendation is 2 days prior, allowing you to get in at least 2 showers. For example, if you are getting a spray tan for a Saturday event, you’d go in Thursday.

If this is your first time, or you’re mostly concerned about being too dark, go 3 days prior, so Wednesday for a Saturday event.


The best spray tan actually starts at home, before you even leave the house. Hopefully your spray tan artist or studio provides you with prep tips, but if not, here’s how to insure your tan looks and wears beautifully.

You want to remove body hair, but not right before your spray tan as the pores stay open for a bit. Shaving the night before is ideal.

You can do this with a mitt or set of exfoliating gloves. This removes dry skin buildup and without doing so, your spray tan solution will stick to it and wear unevenly. Make sure to spend extra time on your elbows, knees, ankles, feet and anywhere else that is prone to dead skin build up.

I love using Sonia Roselli Sex-A-Peel to make sure I get every bit of dry skin off pre-tan. This gommage exfoliation spray is excellent for attaching to dry skin cells and with manual friction, rolling them off.


The looser the outfit, the better! Ideally, you’d wear dark colored, breathable, loose sweats with long sleeves. If you can go bra and undie-less, even better.

If you’re a frequent tanner, you might invest in something like this set, shown above. I recommend going 1 size larger than normal. You can reserve this as your spray tan uniform. I even have a brown fleece “spray tan blanket” that I use when I want to sit on the couch after a tan.


    • Deodorant

    • Tight garments like strappy bras or underwear

    • Watches or hair ties on your wrist

    • Rings

    • Body lotions or oils


You’ll disrobe to your comfort level. Many people go nude, while others wear a pair of old, dark colored underwear or even a dark colored swimsuit.

You’ll be asked to apply lotion to the rough areas where spray tan solution tends to absorb more: hands, feet, ankles and knees.

Your spray tan artist will then direct you to stand in various positions to ensure they’re able to reach all the areas of your body, creating an even, seamless tan.

You will likely start facing your artist, then turn backwards, lifting your arms, and boobs even, to allow them to reach where they need.

You might be powdered down in sweaty areas, dried down with a blast of air, then you can carefully, get dressed.

As you can see, I have my spray tan artist skip my face, but still take the tan up my neck.


Yes and no. If you have a pretty stacked skincare routine, as in retinols, benzoyl peroxide or hydroquinone, it’s going to exfoliate right off anyways so there’s not much point.

If you wear makeup, and have a deeper shade you can match your face to your body with, you’re golden. Literally. If your usual foundation is too light, you can tweak the color to match by adding just 1-2 drops of these bronzing drops.

However, if you don’t wear much makeup, and your skincare routine is pretty simple and basic, you may as well have your artist do a quick pass over the face.

Here’s how my makeup looks after a spray tan, having not spray tanned my face.

From a makeup artist perspective, I err more on the side of not having your face spray tanned. For my wedding clients, I’d much rather match someone’s face to their body, rather than risk a tan on the face wearing away unevenly. I also like to exfoliate my brides’ skin with Sonia Roselli Sex-A-Peel which will remove some of the spray tan anyways.


The color you see immediately after your spray tan is not the color of your tan, but rather a temporary, cosmetic bronzer. This allows your spray tan artist to see where they are spraying. While it can stay in your pores for a few days, it has no reflection on the actual tan and will rinse off during your first shower.

The true color of your tan will be dependent on the quality of the DHA (dihydroxyacetone) in the solution, your own undertone, and how well you moisturize it.

The depth of your tan depends on the percentage of DHA, how long you wear the tan before rinsing and your skin’s individual PH.

Contrary to some marketing, spray tan solutions, both for professional use, as well as DIY sunless tanners, do not come in undertones. As a makeup artist of 11+ years, I can confidently tell you that a spray tan will make almost every single person look slightly more golden than they naturally are.

I don’t know why I’m looking so smug in that before pic.

My skin has a yellow, leaning olive undertone to it. With a spray tan, I am just a deeper, more golden tone. I am not red, or orange.

However, you cannot ask for a more golden tan. You cannot request that your spray tan artist use a more “olive” tanning solution. They can tan you with any color of cosmetic bronzer added to the base DHA solution, but after 1-2 showers, it is irrelevant and down the drain.


With a regular spray tan, you don’t usually want to wait more than 16 hours to shower. If it’s a rapid solution, no longer than 4 hours. Most will sleep in a regular spray tan overnight. The rapid is nice if you’d prefer not to do that.

Your first shower is technically more of a rinse. If possible, skip soap and just do a warm, but not hot, all over rinse. This will remove the majority of the cosmetic bronzer left on the skin, as well as any drying powder.

The second shower is where you can soap up but read on because not just any soap or body wash will do.

Glo Bar and Glo Glove


I strongly recommend a gentle, natural ingredient-based bar soap like the Glo Bar for the duration of your tan. Avoid Dove body wash like the plague. If you can’t get your hands on the Glo Bar, the more natural the soap, the better. You could look for a similar goat milk based soap at Whole Foods.

When my skin is still wet from the shower, I love moisturizing my tan with the Skin&Co Ultra Rich Body Oil. This is perfect as it’s made up of 23 different natural oils, rich in omega fatty acids to deeply hydrate. If you’re going out, try the shimmering version of this oil. Your tan will look so extra gorgeous and you’ll smell divine.

I prefer body butters to body lotions, but make sure it has natural, plant-based oils, vs. mineral oil. The Trader Joes Coconut Body Butter is a fave.

If you want your color to last as long as possible, and fade seamlessly, it’s helpful to have a gradual tanning lotion. Your spray tan artist may even retail a product like this. I love the Glow On Girl Gradual Glow because it’s just enough color, fast absorbing, non-sticky and best of all, smells wonderful.

Gradual tanners contain a very small amount of DHA compared to the actual spray tan solution, making them easy to apply with no streaks. This way, you get a small boost of color along with hydration.

There are also tanning waters meant for the face. Products like the Glow on Girl Tanning Water are helpful as the face always fades the fastest. Spray on your face, neck and chest if you want and then immediately buff out with a clean makeup brush.

If you look closely, you’ll see some slight scaling.


Around day 5 of your tan, you’ll notice some scaliness as it wears away. This is totally normal and doesn’t mean you got a bad tan by any means. Now is the time to begin gently exfoliating.

In the shower, use an exfoliating mitt or gloves on the areas with visible breakup or scaliness to soften the appearance and allow for a more even fade. Go easy; no need to use much pressure.


When it’s time to move on, a good scrub down in the shower with your exfoliating mitt is in order. I like to make this process even easier by spraying Sonia Roselli Sex-A-Peel on my body, using that to roll off the remains of tan. I’ve not tried the Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser product but it seems to do something similar.


You don’t want to wear deodorant to your initial spray tan appointment. I know it feels weird, and if you’re like me, things could get a little gamey, but it will form a barrier and you’ll have white pitties!

If you find that your skin is sensitive, prone to heat rashes or hives, consider taking a Benydryl before your spray tan. Itching will remove the tan and hydrocortisone cream will downright strip it off entirely. Ask me how I know…

In the first few hours after your spray tan, avoiding moisture is crucial. That of course means sudden rain showers or sink splashes, but it very much includes sweating. Definitely don’t work out or work up a sweat after your spray tan.

This is a very specific example, but one of my cats kicked off my chest when I was holding him after a spray tan. He took off a scratch sized layer of spray tan and left a large wound I had to then blend into my tan with makeup. If your kitties or doggies are prone to jumping on you, steer clear for a bit.


I hope this post has broken down everything you ever wanted to know about spray tans. If you were on the fence, I hope you feel better about going this route now.

If you need a refresher, I made THIS VIDEO to show you all the prep steps, during and after care. You can rest assured that you’re saving yourself years of skin damage in the process.

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