How to Get the Best Results From a Spray Tan

by Melissa King

Soaking up the sun may give you a golden-brown tan, but those harmful UV rays also do massive damage to your skin. If you'd rather put safety first, get your summery glow from a spray tan instead. With a spray tan, you can't just mist your skin and expect perfect results. You'll score the longest-lasting color by preparing your skin before the tan and taking proper care of it afterward.

Exfoliate your skin for two or three consecutive days before your spray tan. Doing this scrubs away debris and dead skin cells. Use an oil-free exfoliant for best results.

Shave at least 24 hours before getting your spray tan. This helps the tan adhere to skin more easily. If you prefer not to shave, then wax or use a depilatory cream instead.

Shower with a pH-balanced body wash before the tan. Avoid using regular soap.

Coat your fingernails with clear nail polish or petroleum jelly before tanning. Spray tan may discolor fingernails, but by protecting them you'll avoid most stains.

Hold the can about 6 inches away from your skin if you're doing the spray tan yourself. Apply a thin, even layer of the tanning solution. Using small, circular motions, smooth the solution over your skin with your hands. Do not rub the product in -- that tends to cause streaks. After tanning joints such as elbows, ankles and knees, wipe the area gently with a damp cloth. Your joints absorb more tanner than other areas, and doing this prevents them from looking too dark.

Put a dab of exfoliating scrub on a wet loofah if you end up with self-tanner streaks. Massage the streaked area with the loofah using circular motions, then rinse the scrub off in the shower. Repeat if any streaks remain. Pat dry with a towel. Once the streaks are gone and your skin is dry, reapply the self tanner. If you're in a hurry, apply a tinted bronzer instead.

Avoid strenuous physical activity for six to eight hours after the tan. Don't do anything that might cause you to sweat. Also avoid putting on makeup, perfume, deodorant or other cosmetics that might react with the tanning solution. If your armpits tend to sweat, dust them with talcum powder to keep moisture at bay. Do not wear tight-fitting shoes or clothing; they might cause the tan to rub off before it's developed.

Shower eight to 12 hours after the tan. If you shower before then, your tan may rinse off. Use moisturizing shower gel, and pat your skin dry with a towel. Avoid washing with high-lather body wash, soap or any product that contains glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids. These products can cause the tan to fade or look uneven.

Apply a moisturizing cream that contains sunscreen twice daily. To make the tan last longer, apply a tan-extending lotion before you go to bed at night.

Items you will need

  • Exfoliant
  • Razor, wax or depilatory cream
  • PH-balanced body wash
  • Clear nail polish or petroleum jelly
  • Cloth
  • Exfoliating scrub
  • Loofah
  • Tinted bronzer (optional)
  • Exfoliant
  • Talcum powder
  • Shower gel
  • Tan-extending gel


  • If you're getting a spray tan done at a salon, wear loose-fitting, dark-colored clothing and shoes to the appointment. Some of the tan may rub off on your clothes, and the dark color will help hide stains.
  • At the tanning appointment, pull your hair up in a tie and cover it with the cap provided by the salon. Remove all jewelry, clothing, shoes, contact lenses and glasses. Wipe your body with pre-tan wipes to remove makeup, deodorant, oils and other debris. Apply unflavored lip balm to lips, and rub a dab of hair conditioner on the exposed hairline to avoid discoloration. You'll likely get a disposable robe to wear, but you can also wear a bathing suit if you prefer. After the tan, wait at least five minutes before putting clothes back on.

About the Author

Melissa King began writing in 2001. She spent three years writing for her local newspaper, "The Colt," writing editorials, news stories, product reviews and entertainment pieces. She is also the owner and operator of Howbert Freelance Writing. King holds an Associate of Arts in communications from Tarrant County College.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images