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Airbrush Tan vs Spray Tan: 5 Crucial Factors to Consider

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
Airbrush Tan vs Spray Tan

If you’re bored with the usual methods of self-tanning, then why not consider airbrushing and spray tanning?

Both an airbrush tan and a spray tan are great ways to achieve a beautiful tan.

But what makes the two tanning methods different?

Read on to find out!

What is Sunless Tanning?

Sun tanning is a great way to show off a natural tan. However, it takes time to get a natural tan. 

It’s also harmful to your skin due to exposure to UV rays.

Frequent sun tanning causes premature agingskin cancer, and sun damage. This includes leathery skin, wrinkles, sun spots, etc.

Enter: Sunless tanning – a great alternative to sun tanning because it’s quick, easy, and cheap WITHOUT harming your skin.

Some examples include:

  • Indoor tanning lotion
  • Spray tan
  • Self-tanners
  • Airbrush tanning
  • Tanning beds
  • Topical application (e.g. cream, mousse, butter)
  • Tanning pills

Most sunless tanning products contain an active ingredient (like tan accelerators) called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). 

This is a harmless organic compound that reacts with the outer layer of your skin.

Once it comes in contact with your skin, DHA reacts with the amino acids of dead skin cells. This darkens your skin for a few days.

In this article, we focus on the 2 most popular sunless tanning options: airbrush tanning and spray tanning.

Airbrush Tan

Airbrush Tan

Airbrush tans involve a professional technician holding an airbrush tanning gun. This gun contains the spray tanning solution.

  • You can choose a specific shade of tan to match your unique skin tone and type.
  • Standard airbrush tanning solutions contain a natural bronze color, which will have the optimum shade after 12 hours.
  • Then, airbrush tanning involves a delicate process of a technician spraying it on your entire body to give you an even, streak-free tan.

Airbrush tanning is customizable as you can prevent the excess airbrush solution from reaching certain parts of your skin, such as your knees, elbows, underarms, etc.

An airbrush spray tan can also eliminate tan lines

The airbrush tanning technician can provide special treatment to provide more definition, such as your thighs and abs to avoid those tan lines.

Spray Tan

Spray Tan

Spray tans involve tanning booths and nozzles.

  • You have to stand inside the spray tanning booth that contains spray nozzles within the enclosure.
  • You will be given a set of instructions, which are usually delivered via speakers.
  • All you have to do is follow the instructions. This involves turning and moving around at certain angles.
  • As you stand and move, the nozzles will release fast spray bursts containing the tanning solution. 

The quantity of the solution will depend on how strong you want your tan to be.

However, spray tans are not as accurate compared to an airbrush tan. It isn’t possible to even out the skin tone.

Airbrush Tan vs. Spray Tan: Features Comparison

Features Comparison

Let’s get into the details of both sunless tanning methods.

We compared both methods using 5 categories:

  • Convenience
  • Duration
  • Longevity
  • Aftercare
  • Cost

TL;DR? Both methods are great, so the choice is yours!


Airbrush spray tanning is administered by a technician. It’s one of the most convenient spray tan types.

This makes communication and coordination easier. 

  • You can request specific instructions, such as matching the solution to your specific skin tone to make it look naturally colored.
  • As such, any mistakes are easily noticeable and correctable. Your technician can also look out for any allergic reactions by doing a patch test.
  • The spray type involve standing inside a booth, so all the instructions will be pre-programmed.
  • The upside is that you don’t have to stand naked in front of your technician. This will ensure your privacy and comfort.
  • Additionally, the nozzles are accurate and the instructions are easy to follow. As such, the chances of getting an uneven tan are very low.

Difference Between Airbrushing and Spray Tanning

There are 2 things that make airbrush and spray tans different: 

1. Customization

Airbrush tanning is customizable.

As it’s a technician controlling the airbrush, the tanning solution can extend hard-to-reach areas, such as the inner thighs, under the breast, etc.

A spray can only reach the exposed parts of your body. You’ll need to move around and change angles to achieve your desired skin tone there.

2. Hygiene

Second, airbrushes are regularly cleaned and maintained by the technicians.

Spray booths are used by many customers, so the hygiene of these tanning booths is questionable.


As airbrush tans involve the technician’s availability, you’ll have to book your appointment IN ADVANCE.

Salons can be packed, especially if you’re after experienced technicians.

The airbrush spray tanning process itself will take 15 to 20 minutesIf you have some special requirements, it might take a bit longer.

Spray tanning is faster. It only takes 5 to 7 minutes.


Aftercare is just as important as getting a sunless tan. Why?

How well you take care of your skin after the tanning session will determine how long your tan will last.

  • For airbrush tans, you’ll have to wait at least 8 hours before taking a shower. To make your tan last longer, extend it to 12 to 24 hours.
  • For spray, you can shower after 6 hours. But similarly, the longer you wait, the better. In this case, it’s better if you can extend it to 8 to 12 hours.

Generally, though, it isn’t advisable to wash yourself right after a spray tan.


For airbrush tans, all you need is 1 session to achieve a perfect tan. One session lasts 4 to 10 days.

For spray tans, you’ll need to book more tanning sessions.

To reach your desired results, you’ll need 1 to 3 sessions. The spray will last 5 to 7 days.

REMEMBER: If you must shave your legs, do so BEFORE applying your spray tan.


The cost of airbrush tanning highly depends on the tanning salon, technician’s skills, etc. The typical range is $35 to $80 for one session.

For spray tanning, the costs will be more or less similar throughout all salons. The price range is $25 to $50 per session.

The Verdict

The Verdict

Go for Airbrush Tanning If…

  • You want precise results including hard-to-reach areas
  • You don’t mind stripping naked in front of a technician
  • You want to effectively tan by customizing it

Go for Spray Tan If…

  • You want privacy and comfort
  • You want a quick, fuss-free process
  • You want a cheaper method for a sunless tan
  • It’s for special events!

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between both tanning solutions, we hope you’ll make a choice that suits your tanning needs.

Airbrush tanning tends to be more expensive. But you’ll be able to get a more precise tan as it will evenly spray to all parts of your body.

Spray tans are faster and cheaper. However, it tends to last shorter and may not be as accurate.

FINAL TIP: If you plan to wax your legs, follow this guide on spray tanning and waxing to make sure you get it right!