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All The Questions Answered About How I Get My “Natural” Looking Spray Tan …

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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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Side By Side 1

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.

Spray Tan Lores 9

What happens once in the spray tan room?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Get into the booth – NAKED or with whatever clothes you want (but you’ll have SEVERE “tan” lines) .
  6. 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.

Spray Tan Lores 11

What are the DOs and DONT’s after getting a spray tan?

  1. You can’t take a shower for 8 hours – that’s the minimum amount of time for it to “activate”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.
  6. 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):

Spray Tan Lores 15

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:

Emily Henderson Spray Tan Before And After Copy

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:

Emily Henderson Self Tanner Products

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.

xx

Emily

Fin Mark
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Beth

I love these honest and vulnerable posts. Totally real in how you choose to take care of your appearance.

That being said, I think I think you glow just as much without it!!! But if you love it, go for it!

ah thank you 🙂

Deana Fernandez

Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been way too scared to try this after watching the Friends episode when Ross has several major spray tan fails. 🤣
I can now feel confident trying it.

Kaylee

Came here to say this😂 No episode makes me laugh harder.

TINA SCHRADER

Hmmm…I wonder if that would work on me. I once went through seven self tanners — high and low end — and nothing worked. My dermatologist didn’t know what to say, except that she’d never heard of that before, which left me feeling a bit closer, literally, to being a pale alien. Finally, good ol’ Jergens did the trick — years later. You make it sound so easy! I must admit, though, that all I keep picturing is Ross not counting right in the tanning booth, getting over-sprayed and becoming a human chocolate bar. Oh –and those poses above…I thought at first that you were just being silly and trying to walk like an Egyptian. 😉

Claire

I used to do spray tans years ago until I found a really great lotion (I really just use it on my legs) called Fake Bake Flawless! It’s cruelty free and I feel like it looks pretty natural!

Sarah

My dermatologist also recommended fake bake. She said be careful of spray tans because of inhaling the stuff (not good).

OOh good to know re Fake Bake Flawless. going to order some now!

Jenny

The Isle of Paradise drops are amazing! They’re vegan, cruelty free and organic – and they’re buildable (you add the drops to your lotion, more or less depending on the intensity you’re going for!)

what? oh thats awesome. going to try these. too!

Teres

I can vouch for the Isle of Paradise drops, too. LOVE them. Not only can you add right to your own facial moisturizer and/or body lotion, but the tan is extremely natural looking. I usually use the green bottle – Medium Golden Glow.

Another good non-toxic organic self tanner I like is Beauty By Earth. Very natural, healthy looking tan that’s vegan + cruelty free as well. If at all prone to acne, I wouldn’t advise using on your face though. The shea butter and my complexion did not like each other, but I use it on the rest of my body without incident. Bonus: no nasty smell.

Jen

Isle of paradise all the way!!! I do the medium drops for my face and the spray on darker color (purple bottle) for my legs, cannot recommend them enough!

Erin

I like L’Oreal gel & foam at home. They dey quickly, smell pleasant & have a nice color- not too orange. Medium tone is what I use & I have more golden tans naturally. Skin is warm light-medium.

LouAnn

I wish I had the patience to go through all of this … but I just don’t. I am such a pale ghost and would undoubtedly look much better with a spray on tan but I am super low maintenance when it comes to personal grooming. And reading all of this makes me immediately realize I would never do it. Plus the thought of this stuff getting on my clothes and sheets is off-putting.

Why can’t some giant pharma company invent a pill to induce a tan instead of, you know, selling ridiculously addictive pain killers?

Vike

Agree. Life is too short for this

Guys. it take 4 minutes from car door to car door. not saying you should do it, but just saying that it takes almost zero time. And I remember when I was in junior high literally praying to god to invent that pill 🙂

Lisa

I recall reading fashion magazine articles about some company working on this back in the 80s. Nothing ever came of it, unfortunately. As a fellow pasty person who has spent an insane amount of money on self tanners (lotions and spray tans) I finally got sick of the whole thing. Now I just use self tanning lotion when I’m going on vacation. Mostly so my legs don’t blind the locals. -Heh.

Hilariously i read about a pill recently that can in fact make your skin have more pigment (I think its like whatever is in carrots) but it makes the whites of your eyes orange, too and has like a million side effects. I still considered it for like 10 seconds before I drove myself to Glendale and hopped in my booth 🙂

Megan

I’m into “high maintenance for low maintenance.” I go to the hair salon every five weeks, lash extension appointment every two weeks, permanent brows with maintenance 1-2 times a year. These kinds of things considerably cut down on my time getting ready every morning since I look fairly put together when I wake up. I’m considering doing this spray tan thing if I can find a place close to home – I would probably work out an entire system (like a duffel with everything I need in it that I keep in my car) to minimize the time involvement. Also hair removal on my armpits and legs would work with this philosophy.

My ideal situation would be a salon where I’m getting multiple things done at once: lash extension fill, mani/pedi, Bikini wax, microdermabrasion, root touch up with blowout, etc. Like put me in some crazy reclining chair with 7 people around me and do all the things in like 2 hours. Sadly I don’t know of such a place.

LouAnn

Megan: That salon exists. In “The Hunger Games.” 😉

Megan

Lol. Yes! Give me that, just don’t make me fight to the death afterward!!

Sarah

Hahahaha!! Thank you for this comment. So funny!!!

J

The land of Oz! 😂

That’s what I thought of and this comment made me LOL.

Rebecca

An amazing organic option is Vita Liberata Fabulous self tanning lotion!! Minimal smell, totally clean ingredients, great bronze color (never orange) that develops quickly. It’s the holy grail of at home tans for me!

Sara Beth

Seconding Vita Liberata and their body makeup Body Blur. For a cheaper option, I like b.tan their Not Just Your Weekend Lover, which is purple based, got me hooked for home self-tanning. I would love to try the Tan-Luxe line just because of the aesthetic but I’m not sure if they are worth the investment.

Kd
Ashley

Mine just arrived and I am so excited to try it! A truly clean & natural fake tan feels too good to be true!

Lisa

I used to spray tan occasionally but now I’ve fallen in love with body makeup if it’s not a pool situation. I really only use it on my arms or legs (mostly just legs) and you can get a tan AND cover veins and bruises, etc. The sheets and the smell of the tanning booth have always been too much of a hassle, with the makeup you can apply in the morning and scrub off at night. 👍🏻

which brand do you use? the brand that i love i posted about a year ago, it sold out immediately and has never been back in stock!

Lisa

I use Sally Hansen, because it’s inexpensive and worked the first time I tried it. I know that KKW has a good product but why spend $30+ when you can spend $6? The key for me is to not react to the color that comes out when you spray it on… get the spray, not the tube. Spray it on your legs and RUB and SPREAD. What starts as an “omg this color is crazy“ starts to blend into “hey my legs look great.” It doesn’t transfer once it dries and you have to use a washcloth to scrub it off. I’ve actually used it at the pool, too, if I was going to be in the water a ton and don’t need a towel to dry off the part of my body I’ve applied. I’m pretty fair and get the Fairest Glow shade.

Cat

Lisa, what brand body makeup do you recommend?

Lisa

Drugstore Sally Hansen. I’m not sure the color range works for everyone and I don’t think they have much for darker pigmented skin, unfortunately, but I’m pretty fair and the Fairest Glow works for me.

Janet

Coola is the best self tanner I’ve ever used. I was a diehard St. Tropez person until I got talked into trying Coola.

oh good. going to try!

Kate

Bondi Sands from Walgreens!

Megan

To save your sheets, I’ve heard of people using a sleeping bag liner to sleep In (in bed, under the covers) on the night of the tan. There are some pretty silky ones out there, I’d probably get a really dark color.

Nancy

Is there a mitt you recommend…one that’s sold separately?

Deborah

I just embrace my pasty-white-ness and just don’t care! Also, standing next to my even pastier husband (who describes his coloring as “the pallor of the grave”) makes me look positively tan! I’m way too lazy for this — my haircare routine consists of combing it and letting it air dry, and I spend 5 minutes max on makeup, but I support doing whatever makes you feel good about yourself as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. 🙂

Emily

Do you ever worry about inhaling that mist? I never thought of it till I was pregnant. I haven’t gotten a spray tan since, though I really do miss it.

Ashley

True story, one time I went to get a versa spray and it was close to closing time so the girl had just done her deep clean on the booth and she inadvertently turned the volume all the way down. It started spraying me and I panicked because she wasn’t telling me what to do. It had been a few months since my last tan so I couldn’t remember the timing and sequence and it was a TRUE Ross Gellar moment when I got repeat sprayed on the same sides multiple times. I walked out and was like “I’M AN EIGHT.” Of course I was able to go home and shower it off, but it was pretty ridiculous 😂

Kaitlyn

I have also been spray tanning for years and wanted to chime in that I love Vita Liberata for a quick/ at home treatment. It’s organic and you can use it on your face (!) + body and it actually works without streaking or making you orange.

Esther

You’re beautiful and you have a public face you need to show to the world. I’m so impressed that you keep this up even if it’s only 4 minutes. The drive time and planning are impressive with everything else you do. I feel pretty good about myself when I paint my nails or curl my hair, both of which happen biannually haha. You’re the best Emily. Thank you for being so transparent with us.

Rosie

In 2012, a repot from ABC News came out stating that DHA has the ability to damage human DNA and cause a wide variety of health issues in humans. This is because DHA has the ability to penetrate the deeper layers of your skin, the epidermis, and dermis. In fact, it was found that 11% of DHA penetrates into these layers of skin and then can go into the bloodstream.

Even if only a small amount makes it into the human bloodstream, it can still have potential health consequences like the development of certain cancers. More recent studies suggest that when DHA penetrates the dermis and epidermis it can actually interfere with your DNA and increase your exposure to free-radical damage.

Addie

Good to know. Thanks for sharing Rosie!

Katie

To keep your sheets clean just purchase a silk sleeping bag liner and sleep inside for a few nights on top of your bed sheets.

Marie

Emily I think you’d love Josie Marian Argan oil liquid gold! I’m fair skinned and it gives me the perfect amount of natural-looking glow. Works well on the face too without breakouts, just use a very small amount there

Janice

I second that recommendation! I have very pale skin and it gives a natural glow. Smells a bit like peaches out of the bottle as well.

Catherine

My favorite is Isle of Paradise (Medium – I’m fair like you). I use the spray. If I want more of a light glow, I’ll add it to a little lotion & rub it in. Some people like the drops, but I prefer the dual option of the spray. I also like the L’Oreal Sublime Bronze self-tanning towelettes – I use medium. I think I’ll try the Coola & Fake Bake based on the comments above! Thank you for all this spray tan info, I def need to try it one day!

Katie f

Love this write-up! I have only done the airbrush, which was errr humbling. The artist was very kind though and assured me she’s seen it ALL. Lol.
I was not prepared for what happened to my sheets. RIP Serena and lily white and blue patterned set. They are now “beige and blue”

Leigh

This the weird and quality content that make your blog such a great read.

Did I know I wanted to know all about spray tans. Nope. But I did.

Thanks

Jane

Cannot agree more, this is exactly how I feel.

Addie

The only fake tanner that I have purchased more than once is the Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner lotion. It’s a buildable color lotion that isn’t too intense or orange for my skin tone. It’s easy to apply, just like lotion (actually instead of, in summer) right after showering. It doesn’t irritate my skin right after shaving nor does it rub off on my clothes or sheets once dry (which is quick). I use it primarily for legs, arms as I don’t swim much but if I know a few days in advance I can build up a tan before hitting the beach/pool. It gives me subtle shades of tan color without a lot of work or cost. It’s also relatively low on the potential toxicity scale. See below for more information on that:

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/products/770805-Alba_Botanica_Sunless_Tanner

Lauren

I’ve been told that Dove soap causes booth tans to wear off more rapidly.

Katie

I have heard the same thing

Ramona

I used st tropez for years but found that it has more olive undertones and my natural skin is more red, so I switched to fake bake flawless darker spray and I LOVE it! It makes it look more natural on me. I also love using the banana boat gradual lotion a few days after I do the fake bake just to extend the life and keep the tan fresh! It layers AMAZING!

Bt829

I highly recommend Tancuticals; smells amazing and gives me such fantastic color!

Amy

Love this post! I just recently tried Tan Luxe The Body which is a tanning oil that you mix a few drops with your regular moisturizer and apply it to your body. The more drops you add, the darker it will be. It’s actually quite cool and worked well before my trip to Mexico where I didn’t want to have super white Canadian legs. Lol.

Shannon

It’s so interesting to me how people perceive skin color. In Asia, fairer skin is better. In Western culture, the tan glow is what it’s all about. In my experience, Central and south Americans like the lighter range of their natural tan skin…

I’m very fair and have had people comment on it (not in a positive way) many times. If fake tanning makes you (collective) feel better, then go for it! Definitely preferable over damaging UV rays 🙂

I only use the Jergens gradual tanner occasionally during the summer.

Hannah

Can we talk more about the fake tan smell please? I really want to fake tan but my toddler (and husband, but he can just man up about it 🙂 ) hate the smell and I mean so do I, a bit… are any of these solutions a non smelly solution? I keep meaning to try the isle of paradise ones but would love to know about the smell factor!!

Lizzie

I’ve heard if you use Megababe Body Dust (can be found at Ulta) after your spray tan, it minimizes the sticky feeling!

Toni

Have you ever used the Loving Tan brand. I hear it’s all the rage. I’m looking for an at home brand that won’t make me look like an Oompa Loompa!!! LOL

Theresa

Hello. I found this article quite interesting, as an African living in Africa.

Annie

You are lovely both before and after but the tan is really perfect – not too much. And I’m with you on the not-too-tanned face.

LA Lady

So interesting! I don’t know any Asians who spray tan. It’s all about how white can I get? Should I go everywhere with a big floppy hat, a scarf and oversized sunglasses? Yes I should!

Carly C

You look fabulous Emily! And do those cute denim shorts come with the tan? You’re rocking them with or without the tan. Do you mind sharing what brand your shorts are? I think I want the tan and the summer outfit combo!

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