October 10, 2014

Custom Spray Tan Tips from a Professional

Not all spray tans are created equal. There are different methods for sunless tanning.

  1. DIY at home over the counter tan.
  2. Automatic spray tan booth.
  3. Custom spray tan applied by a professional, AKA- “airbrush” spray tanning … this method used to be applied with a tiny airbrush gun (think airbrush makeup) but now the tan is applied with a bigger machine for quicker, easier application. Each method can have very different results.

Let’s focus on #3 – a custom spray tan.

You won’t look orange! Spray tanning started in the 1960’s and has come a long way since then. Back in the day, sunless tanners made you look orange and streaky which has left a bad reputation to this day. There are hundreds of different professional tanning solutions out there, all with different quality ingredients and formulas. You want your spray tan to come from a solution with high quality DHA (the ingredient that makes your skin appear tan), free of alcohol and oils (which can dry and clog pores, as well as stain clothing) and no added fragrances or other unnecessary ingredients. To avoid “turning orange”, your spray tan professional should know what solution to use on your skin with the proper percentage of DHA. Make sure your spray tan professional knows their stuff, and ask lots of questions! 

Don’t skimp on prepping your skin! Shower, shave, and exfoliate before your appointment. Give your under arms a little lovin’ with an extra scrub. Deodorant + spray tan = a giant green ring around your under arms. Cute, right? I could have a great application technique and use an amazing tanning solution but if you skip prepping your skin, you could have less than desirable results. For a scrub, avoid the salt and sugar scrubs because those are oil based which would interfere with the tanning solution. Even a wash cloth or loofah and body wash would do the trick!

Have realistic expectations, looking natural is key! Who doesn’t love a super dark, golden brown tan? But that doesn’t always look natural on everyone. A dark, golden brown tan would look strange on a personal with porcelain skin and red hair. You don’t want your spray tan to look like a spray tan.

Say no to the messy “barrier” creams! Barrier creams are designed for automatic spray tan booths. These are usually applied to hands, feet, elbows, knees, and cuticles because the machine can over saturate some areas. Barrier cream isn’t necessary if your spray tan is applied by a professional because those tough areas can be strategically sprayed to still give them a tanned appearance without over doing it. While you are saying no to barrier creams, do yourself a favor and say no to the spray tan booths all together.

Don’t be shy! Stop apologizing about how sorry you are for me having to see you in your birthday suit. I appreciate your concern, but my main focus is applying your spray tan perfectly. So, if you’d rather minimal or zero tan lines, throw your modesty out the window… you’ll be fully clothed again in no time.

Some of the positions you’ll be in may feel silly… In order to make sure we cover all bases, you’ll stand in some crazy positions to make sure you are not left with any funny marks or tan lines. For example, no one likes the “under butt tan lines” (this can be a dead giveaway that you have a spray tan). So be ready to stick it out!

Don’t touch! After your tan is applied and dried, resist the urge to touch any areas with your hands or fingers. I like to apply baby powder in areas that feel extra tacky, which is a great trick … just don’t rub or brush off the powder (it will dust off on its own). You don’t want your hands or fingers to be tanned, so touching or rubbing in any areas could result in the solution transferring to your hands.

Get ready for 8 straight hours of basically doing nothing. That sink full of dishes will have to wait. Post pone your workout. No frolicking in the rain. Basically anything that requires your skin to come in contact with water, precipitation, perspiration, or friction for a minimum of 8 hours while your tan develops. Feel free to milk this as long as you want to get out of doing things on your to-do list. Also, for all you animal lovers – if you have dogs or cats that love to give kisses, they will also have to wait 8 hours… even the smallest smooch from your fur baby will probably leave a mark.

Everyone’s tan will last and fade differently. Your tan will last 6 days, 7 hours, 3 minutes, 52 seconds. Just kidding, but a general rule of thumb is about 1 week, while slowly fading each day from the initial application. Some people may have residual color in some areas by the second week, but there is no spray tan out there that lasts any longer than that. Think about it- your skin is constantly shedding revealing new skin. Sunless tanners only change the color of the very top layer of skin so once that is gone, so is your tan. Everyone’s skin is different, and lifestyles are different too. If you’re showering 3 times a day in superhot water, while using a super exfoliating loofah, or you’re soaking in a chlorinated pool for long periods of time – chances are your tan won’t last as long as it could have. So take care of your tan! Moisturizing daily is very important because it will help the tan last longer and fade evenly, which is what everyone with a spray tan wants!


Caitlin McGlone is a spray tanning expert and licensed esthetician. She has been spray tanning since 2011 and has her own mobile spray tanning business called Flawlessly Bronzed. In her words, “I am passionate about all things beauty! I am new to the Nkd team and am so excited to work with Kristie Lee and Crystal!”