How Does a Spray Tan Work

How Does a Spray Tan Work featured photo

Spray tanning is a popular and safe way to achieve sun-kissed skin. In an effort to dig into ingredients and product safety, we wondered how a spray tan even works.

Spray tanning involves a tanning gun that sprays a fine mist of tanning solution on the skin. This tanning solution contains an ingredient called DHA. When DHA is applied to the skin, there is a chemical reaction that causes the darkening of the skin’s outer layer.

Tanning booths don’t require a tanning technician. Home service spray tanning also exists. And many avid spray tanners even buy their own spray tan gun to do it in the comfort of their own homes.

In this article, we’ll explain how spray tanning works and what you need to do before, during, and after the tanning session to get the best results. We’ll also address some commonly asked questions after ingredient safety and more.

What is a Spray Tan?

Spray tanning is a sunless tanning method. It uses a spray tan gun that sprays a fine mist of tanning solution or bronzer on the skin. This solution is what gives the skin its tanned look.

Spray tanning solutions come in different tones. Some even come with moisturizing and other skin-benefiting formulas.

Is Spray Tanning Worth It?

Spray tanning isn’t up to everyone’s tastes. There are some who prefer it over other sunless tanning methods while some would rather not.

To help you decide whether you should get a spray tan or not, we have below the pros and cons of spray tanning:

Why you should spray tan

  • Spray tanning is an easy way to get a full and even tan on the entire body. No more uneven and blotchy streaks when you hit the beach.
  • Getting a spray tan is a quick process and could take only up to 30 minutes.
  • You only need to show up for your spray tan appointment. Simply strip everything down (or leave your undergarments) and let the professional do the rest for you.
  • You’re getting rid of prolonged exposure to the sun for that tan. You’re avoiding risks of skin damage, premature aging, or worse, skin cancer.
  • Spray tanning is also much safer than a tanning bed.
  • Spray tanning allows you to customize your tan. Your technician can help you customize tanning shades so you achieve the tan exactly as you want it.

Why you should think twice about spray tanning

  • Those who have very sensitive skin might want to proceed with caution. It would be best to do a simple patch test first with the tanning solution you’re planning to use before going ahead with a full-body spray tan.
  • Though safe and approved for external use, inhalation of tanning solutions and DHA may pose potential risks. It might also be difficult to breathe during the tanning session.
  • Spray tanning can leave marks on walls and floors.

Spray tanning vs self-tanning

If you decide that spray tanning isn’t for you, there is another sunless alternative to it: self-tanners. These are tanning products that come in the form of lotions or mousse and are applied just as easily.

If you want to know more about the topic of self-tanning check out our deep dive on spray tan vs self tanner.

How Does a Spray Tan Work?

The way a spray tan works all lies in a little ingredient in tanning solutions called Dihydroxyacetone or better known as DHA.

When DHA touches the skin, it creates a chemical reaction that darkens the skin’s outermost layer. It doesn’t alter the innermost layers and only works on the skin’s surface.

This means that when dead skin cells shed, so does the tan on the skin’s top layer.

Prepping for a spray tan session

  • For the smoothest tanning results, shave, wax, or thread body hair at least 24 hours before your appointment.
  • Exfoliate to give skin a clean, fresh slate for far better tanning results.
  • Shower before your session.
  • After your shower, don’t wear or apply any lotion, moisturizer, makeup, or any product to the skin. This creates a barrier on the skin and will not give you even results.
  • You can also apply nail polish (even clear polish) on nails to protect them from developing color.
  • Plan ahead. If you have an upcoming event and would like to get tanned, schedule it at least two days before. It typically takes up to 48 hours for the color to settle in and develop.

During a spray tan session

  • Spray tanning provides better results if you’re completely undressed. But if you’re uncomfortable, you can wear underwear instead. Just make sure they’re either dark-colored or you don’t mind staining them.
  • If you decide to completely undress, don’t put your bra back on right after.
  • On the day of, wear dak-colored and loose-fitting clothes as there’s still a chance you can stain them after the appointment.
  • Use nose fillers to prevent inhalation of the tanning solution.
  • Tanning goggles may also be provided during the session. If you have sensitive eyes, don’t second guess and wear them for extra protection.
  • You can wear lip balm for the session to prevent inhaling the solution through the mouth.
  • Follow the technician’s guide on poses to do to ensure an even tan.

Spray tan session post-care

  • Don’t shower right after tanning. Wait at least 10 to 12 hours before you shower again.
  • Avoid activities that can cause sweating in that time frame as well.
  • When you do go shower, shower with warm water instead of cold water. Don’t use any soap or cleansing products in your first shower.
  • Steer clear from products that contain harsh chemicals or exfoliating agents.
  • Moisturize skin daily. Hydration is key to prolonging the tan. Don’t forget to protect your skin with SPF.

How to Spray Tan

Professional application

Many avid fans of spray tanning go the professional application route for many reasons.

For one, a professional knows what they’re doing. All you need to do is show up for your appointment, take off your clothes, and let them do it for you. Some tanning technicians offer home services so you can tan in the comfort of your home.

There can also be a spray tan booth in a spray tan salon that doesn’t require the usual handheld gun. For this setting, there would be no technician spraying you with mist. Instead, it will automatically be done in a booth, but still with professional guidance.

Do it yourself spray tans

A DIY spray tan is a great way to save on bucks but still get that sun-kissed glow. There are many spray tan guns and tanning solutions readily available in the market.

If you’re going the DIY route, you have to keep in mind all the things that could go wrong, especially if you’re not an experienced self-spray tanner.

You could get streaky or blotchy tanning results or not get the color payoff you want. If you’re doing this by yourself, make sure you know what you’re doing and are ready to suffer consequences that might arise. Practicing is key. It would also be best to ask a professional for tips and help.

Is Spray Tanning and the Tanning Solution Safe?

Spray tanning and tanning solutions are 100% safe. Additionally, DHA is FDA-approved for external use. That being said, you should avoid inhaling any of the tanning solutions or getting any of them into your eyes, lips, or mucous membrane.

Of course, there are some who might experience allergic reactions to certain tanning products and solutions. If you have particularly sensitive skin, it would be best to do a patch test first before proceeding with a full-body spray tan.

How Long Does Spray Tanning Last?

Spray tan results typically last for about five to ten days.

This could still vary depending on how dark a tan you’re going for. Darker tans could last longer than lighter tans.

Taking care of your tan after the appointment plays a major role in how long it lasts. Remember, the process only works on the skin’s outer layer so exfoliating and harsh cleansing products will most likely shorten how long it lasts.

How Much Does Spray Tan Cost?

Spray tanning could cost around $25 to $50.

This price range varies depending on the spray tanning salon, location, and the experience of the tanning technician. Home services typically cost more than going to your local spray tanning salon.

Some tanning salons offer packages with multiple sessions already included. These let you save some bucks compared to paying for individual sessions.


Spray tanning is one of the most popular and is the actual safest way to get sun-kissed skin without exposing yourself to harmful UV rays. It’s quick, effective, and convenient.

The key to how a spray tan works lie in the tanning solution ingredients known as DHA. DHA is FDA-approved for external use. When DHA makes contact with the skin, it results in a chemical reaction that darkens the skin’s surface.

And that has been our detailed guide on how spray tanning works. If you have more questions, you can reach us right below!

Michelle Jackson
Michelle Jackson