12 essential spray tan tips to help you get the most out of that appointment

Experts share their top spray tan tips, both for before and after your appointment, to get the best results

woman in a bikini laying by the pool
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether you're new to faux tanning or book regular appointments, our expert spray tan tips can help you get the very best results out of your appointment.

Heading to your first spray tan appointment can be a daunting experience—especially if you have a certain Friends episode burned into your memory. Wising up on exactly what you should do beforehand can, therefore, help to put your mind at ease before that all-important appointment. Even practiced tanners could benefit from a refresh to get the most out of their spray tan. 

The fact is that there are many benefits of spray tanning. For one thing, it's faster and healthier than tanning in the sun and a great way to get a quick glow before a holiday or big event with no UV damage—just make sure you still don't forget to slap on one of the best sunscreen for your face as your skin should always be protected. Ahead are the expert tips you need to know for your best spray tan yet. 

Meet the experts on spray tanning

  • Meredith Boyd is a celebrity hair and makeup artist. Here she has explained the benefits of getting a spray tan and failsafe faux tanning tips.
  • Dr. Karen O'Neill is a dermatologist with over 15 years of experience, who has also shared the benefits of spray tans and tips for getting the most out of them.

12 spray tan tips for the best results

What to do before a spray tan

Before you head off for your spray tanning experience, there are few steps to take from the very first moment you decide to get one that will help you get the best results from your spray tan.

1. Find the right salon

Do your research to find the best spray tan salon in your area. Look up reviews or ask your friends for recommendations. “You want a facility that is clean, hygienic and well ventilated,” says Dr. Karen O’Neill, dermatologist and beauty expert.

2. Know your skin tone

Arrive at your appointment prepared by determining ahead of time what your skin tone is so you know what kind of product the technician should use. "Simply look at the veins at your elbow or wrist. If the vein is green, you are olive skin-toned, and if the vein is blue, you are fair skin-toned,” explains celebrity makeup artist Meredith Boyd. 

“Olive-based skin tones work best with citrus-based tanning solutions, and fair skin tones work best with sugar-based solutions. This will help you avoid turning orange! Ask your technician what is the base of the formula. If they can’t answer, run!”

3. Prep your skin

"Your skin needs to be exfoliated and well-moisturized to achieve a streak-free, even finish,” says Dr. O’Neill. “Arrive for your appointment showered and shaved, waxed, or threaded."

"Apply barrier cream or lotion to your nail beds, knees, elbows, and ankles to prevent these areas from getting too dark during your spray tan,” Boyd adds. Our helpful guide can help if you're not sure whether to apply sunscreen or moisturizer first.

4. Wear loose-fitting, dark clothes 

“Don’t wear tight clothing for 24 hours prior to your tan or after,” says Boyd. Tight clothing might create marks on your skin before the tan, and it could interfere with the tan afterwards “Wear a loose summer dress or T-shirt and flowy bottoms. No socks—wear flip flops or slides," she adds. Opt for comfy loungewear or sweat sets—you could even take a set of loose pajamas along to wear.

“Some of the spray tan may rub onto your clothes following application, so it’s best not to wear your favorite outfit to the spray tan salon,” advises Dr. O’Neill. Darker clothes also carry less of a risk of staining. 

5. Road test your tan ahead of a big event

If you’ve never gotten a spray tan before, your first time trying one shouldn’t be right before a special occasion when you need to look your best. “Do a practice run before a major event, like a wedding or a photoshoot,” Dr. O’Neill stresses. 

This way, if the color needs adjusting at all, you'll know for next time. It might take some trial and error to find the right salon or technician, or you may even decide that you don't think a spray tan suits you. 

6. Start with a lighter shade

It’s best to test the waters and wade in slowly when it comes to your shade of choice, going a little deeper than your natural skin tone—it's much easier to add than take away, as the adage goes. 

“First-timers should ask for a light to medium spray [compared to their natural skin tone] so they can ease into the process of spray tanning,” Boyd advises. 

7. Time it in line with any event(s)

"Timing is everything, as the spray tan will start to fade in around five to seven days," says Dr. O’Neill. "Ideally, you want to schedule your spray tan one or two days before the big event." 

8. Skip deodorant and fragrance

"Never wear deodorant, perfumes, lotions, or body sprays [before a spray tan]," warns Meredith. "This will change the pH level of the skin and turn it green. Yes, your pits will turn green, guaranteed! You can apply antiperspirant to avoid sweating after your spray, if you need to."

What to do after a spray tan

9. Be gentle with your skin

“Treat your skin gently. Try to wait 10-12 hours to have a shower after your spray tan, and avoid excessive showering,” recommends Dr. O’Neill. “Refrain from exfoliation or shaving as well to prolong your spray tan results." Also remember to “moisturize, moisturize, moisturize,” she adds. 

Just be sure to avoid hydrating with body oils. “They will break down the tan faster and it won’t last as long,” Boyd explains. And, if you're going out in the sun, make sure you know whether sunscreen or sunblock is best to protect your tan.

10. Avoid excessive sweating

“Don’t work out for 24 hours after the spray, as sweating will cause streaks,” recommends Boyd. The same goes for saunas, steam rooms, and the like. 

If you drive, you can also take steps to make your journey home a sweat-free experience. “Make sure your car is cool when you get in it," she adds. "I line my car with a towel prior to the tan; hot seats will cause sweating."

11. Rinse your skin after a full day

“Take a warm water rinse after 24 hours and do not scrub your skin," says Boyd. Lightly wash off with a gentle shower gel to refresh your skin. Pat yourself dry — do not rub!"

12. Use makeup on any streaks that develop

If you’re stuck with spray tan streaks, get your best foundation at the ready. “Camouflage with makeup or concealer, and do a better job of prepping your skin the next time,” says Dr. O’Neill.

What are the benefits of a spray tan? 

“Spray tanning is the safest way to achieve a bronzed-all-over look in minutes without the harmful damaging rays of the sun,” says Boyd. “From the palest to the richest of skin tones, spray tanning is beneficial to enhance your skin tone and it provides a healthy glow when applied correctly."

In fact, a spray tan is one of the few safe and healthy ways to achieve a sunkissed look—especially if you're worried about whether sunscreen prevents tanning. “There is no such thing as safe tanning from the sun or a tanning bed. Tanning from ultraviolet light leads to sun damage,” stresses Dr. O’Neill. "You can 'fake the bake' using a spray tan booth, airbrush or spray gun, or self-applied tanning lotion."

It's also a much safer way to darken your skin than using coconut oil for tanning or if you've been tempted to use baby oil to help you tan (neither of these methods we'd recommend). Getting a spray tan isn’t totally effortless, though. There are some steps you need to take to prepare, as well as important aftercare considerations to ensure the best results. Follow our steps above and you'll have a flawless glow in no time. 

Aleesha Badkar
Former Deputy Editor at My Imperfect Life

Aleesha was Deputy Editor and Beauty & Fashion Editor for My Imperfect Life, where she headed up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was Shopping Writer at woman&home and gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. When she’s not testing all the new beauty & lifestyle products on the market, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, watching everything Marvel, learning about different wines, attempting new languages and traveling as much as she can.