My team has heard me reference spray tanning for years and when we were brainstorming our lifestyle content for February, they all begged me to do a post about it because they are all curious and want try, but they are scared. So today I’m answering all their questions about how I get my “natural” spray tan in the middle of winter, for under 4 minutes and around $16. I’m not saying you should do this, nor encouraging the idea that tan skin is better than pale – no weird skin shaming here. But, like covering grays or straightening hair, it is something that some people do and even more people are curious about. And while it’s innately driven in a superficial (literally skin deep) way, I think most of us can relate to the confidence boost we get when we are looking healthy and pulled together – whatever that looks like to you. I’m an expert in it (the spray tan, not the “pulled together” look), so get ready because I’m about to drop some spray tan knowledge.
Let me walk you through it all …
WHAT IS A SPRAY TAN?
A spray-tan is a liquid formula with DHA that when sprayed evenly makes you look like you’ve been in the sun and you feel all glowy. There are many levels and tones and indeed you might want to experiment before say, your red carpet walk or your wedding. The same formula can also be in a lot of tanning lotions (we’ll get to that later).
There are two types of spray tans: “airbrush” and “booth”.
Airbrush means a real live person actually sprays you *naked* either in a pop-up booth in your home ($50 – $100 depending on where you live and level of experience) or at a salon ($60 – $80). It’s highly embarrassing but you will get a much longer-lasting tan that might look more natural and it’s, ahem, thorough. If you are in LA, I recommend Brittany from Be Bronze Studio.
A “booth” is literally a vertical booth that you stand in and nozzles go up and down and spray you evenly on your front and back. It is faster and more affordable – I have a $60/month membership at a non-fancy place and I go once a week (thus the $16 – it’s likely around $30 if you just buy one). It takes me between 4 – 7 minutes from start to finish (I know because I’ve timed myself SO MANY TIMES while I’ve made Brian wait in the car). There are two major brands of booths – Versa and Mystic. As I’m writing this I literally had no idea how much of an expert I am. I much prefer Versa because it’s more natural and much faster. There are typically 3 different levels of Versa that differ in intensity (and differ from booth to booth). I typically do level #2 bronze (the difference between bronze and clear is that they both give you a tan but ‘bronze’ gives you an immediate glow that will yes, get on your clothes and sheets, and clear doesn’t show up for 8 hours, but since I like instant gratification I get bronze).
What do I do before a spray tan? Any prep?
- You want to be clean, but not crazy exfoliated because it won’t stick as well. Around the ankles and wrists it will stick more because those areas are less smooth for whatever reason. Ideally you shave the day before but I’ve shaven the day of one million times.
- Don’t spray tan and then mani/pedi or get a blowout, or do anything that has to do with water or it will take the color off your hands/feet/calves and neck…
- Do NOT get your first spray tan before an important event like a wedding. They can be uneven, too orange or too dark so test it out, go on yelp, ask for recommendations. For any special occasion, I get a custom airbrush done to guarantee that it’s a natural tone and it’s even (again, you have to make an appointment, it takes at least 20 minutes and costs about 4 times the cost of a booth in LA, otherwise I would do it all the time). They can even vary from booth to booth within the same brand so test out that particular booth first.
- You need to wear a loose-fitting dress afterwards so it doesn’t stick to your body and rub off your tan (it also feels incredibly gross to put on tight skinny jeans after this – you are sticky and damp for hours). No combat boots either. Think flip flops or loose sneakers.
There I am the day before the shoot, consider this a “before”. Those are the four poses that you are supposed to do in the booth, and no I’m not psyched that I had to publish those on the internet. I also waited until my last spray tan was totally gone as you can see to do this post, which was QUITE the sacrifice.
What happens once in the spray tan room?
- Put on your barrier cream on hands and feet (see IGTV on Instagram). Apply liberally, but if you want to do it perfectly google some videos. I’m not the best at it.
- Put on your hairnet and make sure it’s not too far onto your forehead (true story – I had like a full 1/2 inch tan near my hairline on my whole face once for an entire day). In the winter, I usually put a hairnet on my face too, so that only a bit of it gets on my face. This can make it pretty uneven between my face and my chest, but I don’t love a super tan face in winter (or ever on me). I really just want a tan body, not an orange face.
- Take off jewelry, at least your necklaces and bracelets (I leave my rings because I always have those on so those tan lines don’t matter).
- Step on a towel or buy the little foam things to stand on or else the bottom of your feet will be orange for weeks.
- Get into the booth – NAKED or with whatever clothes you want (but you’ll have SEVERE “tan” lines) .
- Press button and wait for robot lady to tell you to move into the above four poses as the sprayer goes up and down 4 times. It then dries you on both sides.
What are the DOs and DONT’s after getting a spray tan?
- You can’t take a shower for 8 hours – that’s the minimum amount of time for it to “activate”.
- If you see it looking REALLY DARK then wash your face and chest. I think it sticks faster there and it can look dark and really unnatural. I usually don’t shower the next day because I like it to keep activating and get even darker, but you kinda stink and it’s pretty gross.
- Most people shower the next morning but don’t scrub and don’t use a rag. Just let the water run and you’ll see the brown water of the bronzer go down the drain.
- You should be careful about having sex for 8 hours, too. I’ve NEVER been in this situation before but I’ve heard from an airbrush person that if “certain liquids” get on it it will indeed take it off if under the 8 hours within that region. That “tan line” is harder to explain in a bathing suit the next day at the pool…
- You should expect that it will get on your sheets, jammies, pillowcases, and towels. Mine always comes out, but I can’t vouch for your spray tan (it’s the same with most tanning lotions). I will say that if you like your sheets crisp white then you should likely need to bleach them, but again it’s not a huge problem for me.
- You can go swimming, get a massage, sit in a hot tub, steam room, sauna but all those things will reduce how long it lasts. I tell you this because usually people spray tan before vacation, so just know the consequences of your fun 🙂 I feel like one day in a chlorine pool takes mine totally off (If I’m on vacation I use St. Tropez at night on my legs and I’m happy – use the mitt).
THE NEXT DAY (or 8 hours later):
Yep. There she is. You might say that my legs are tanner than my face and you are right. I could use bronzer on my face if I wanted to even it out, but I wanted to show you what it looked like. That color will last for 2 -3 days with minimal showering.
As a reminder – here you go:
I consider it makeup for your body. It’s not that big of a deal but it does make me feel more comfortable at least wearing shorts. Head to IGTV later today to watch the video of the process which is both entertaining and yes, embarrassing but super informative.
If the booth spray sounds like too much to you (or you just want a good at-home product) here are our favorites:
1. St. Tropez Set of 2 8 oz. Classic Self Tan Mousse with Mitts | 2. Kate Somerville Glow Duo Tanning Towels & Exfolikate | 3. Neutrogena Build A Tan Lotion | 4. Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion
I’ve used the St. Tropez for years and love it (I opt for the booth because it can get back, butt, and is just more even but if I ever just want legs done I use this). Kate Somerville wipes are great if you have some color already but just want a glow, and Julie and Sara both love the Neutrogena and Banan Boat options.
We would love your suggestions in the comments – especially if there are any new organic brands (or booths) we should try.