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How Do Spray Tans Work? The Tanning Process Explained

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
How Do Spray Tans Work_ The Tanning Process Explained

A spray tanning salon will be your best solution if you want a way to achieve a perfect tan.

A spray tan gives you a sun-kissed glow without actual sun exposure. It is an easy process to achieve your summer glow!

So, how do spray tans work? Read more for the explained process of getting a spray tan guide.

What is Spray Tanning?

Spray tanning, often known as sunless tanning, is accomplished by spraying a fine mist of an active ingredient over your body.

A chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a component of this spray mist. A spray tan works by interacting with your skin to give you a bronzed or tanned appearance.

DHA is recognized as non-toxic and non-carcinogenic and has been given FDA approval for cosmetic use.

A spray tan only contains a DHA percentage of five to fifteen.

Although DHA is not carcinogenic, it would be beneficial to wear protective eye gear and face gear to prevent unnecessary inhalation.

How Does Spray Tanning Work?

The procedure of spray tanning is simple to understand!

The skin is sprayed with a fine mist, which causes it to tan in a way that looks natural. Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is used in the procedure.

Although these substances are colorless, they naturally interact with the amino acids in skin cells.

When in contact with the chemical reaction, the skin cells turn several shades darker!

The DHA is entirely harmless, even though the idea of spraying a substance that turns your skin cells brown may seem odd.

Options For Spray Tanning

For self-tanners, a spray tan is not satisfactory. With that, listed below are the possible alternatives to a spray tan.

Spray Booth

If you visit a spray tan salon, a specialist will use a spray solution to apply your tan. These booths have many nozzles that release a tanning solution.

You can quickly and effectively apply the solution, and you will be free to choose what color you want.

If you are looking for some suggestions, we recommend you get your spray tan nude!

This may be a suitable alternative for you if you value an even application and are prepared to pay for multiple visits to the salon.

Airbrush Gun or Spray Gun

Appointments for airbrush tanning are common.

They will apply solutions with a portable airbrush, which offers comparable control and consistency.

You won’t need to leave your house and have streaks or those dreadful tan lines!

You might even want to spend money on spray tan equipment for your house if you develop a particular interest in the procedure.

You may learn to use portable products to achieve desired results with some practice.

Tanning Bed

A tanning bed allows you to have a consistent fake tan, especially if you have frequent trips to the tanning tent.

However, some may ask, “Are spray tans safe?”

Unfortunately, NO.

As helpful as it is, it has known health risks, such as skin cancer, which develops in the skin’s outermost layer and produces dead skin cells.

It is advisable to use tanning beds 2-3 times a week and should NOT exceed 60 times a year-round to reduce the risk of skin cancer such as melanoma.

Self Tanning

You’ve seen the aisles of self-tanning products when you visit your neighborhood drugstore or beauty supply shop.

The skin’s color is also changed by these products using the chemical DHA.

Although it can take a lot of time and effort to apply evenly, this is the most economical way to maintain your tan.

But, your artificial tan skin may easily wash off and fade evenly.

Dos and Don’ts Before a Spray Tan

Listed below are some tips for spray tanning prep. This will allow you to have even tan skin!


The things listed below are the things YOU SHOULD DO before getting spray tans.

  • Shower sooner – You must keep your skin sweat-free when planning to have tanning products on your skin. This will make the active chemical spread evenly.
  • Use a shrub to exfoliate the skin – Tanning session freshly scrubbed helps in removing the dead skin cells and reveals the fresh skin underneath in the outer layer.
  • Shave. Shave. Shave! – Some people might be confused about this, but you SHOULD shave your skin DAYS BEFORE YOUR APPOINTMENT. Shaving on the day of getting a spray tan may cause irritation and uncomfortable skin.


  • Applying moisturizer after showering is NOT advised – On the day of your session, you should come to the room with clean skin; no unnecessary moisturizers, no everything! Doing so will stop your skin from absorbing the solution.
  • You should NOT wear any cosmetics and scented products – Wearing cosmetics can eventually irritate your skin when in contact with a tanning solution.

What You Should Do During Spray Tanning

Here is what you should do and remember when getting a spray tan to make it work and hassle-free.

  • Go with dark colors – Most people wear dark colors when having a spray tan session. This is because the spray could stain light-colored shirts with the tanning solution. Also, wear sticky feet to avoid getting tan lines and discoloration.
  • Wear cotton underwear – While in the booth, some women choose to leave their bras on, while others would rather remove them.
  • Wear protective eye gear – Always wear tanning booth glasses to ensure safety while participating in your spray tan session.
  • Use nasal filters or nose filters – This is to avoid taking unnecessary breaths to ensure that you don’t swallow any of the fog.

Post-Tanning Care Tips

The things listed below will help you to make your tan last long on your skin!

  • AVOID moisturizing in the first 12 hours – After your appointment, the first 12 hours are extremely important.
    • Avoiding any moisture and other sources of immediate care is crucial. After that range of hours, moisturize regularly to make your skin hydrated.
  • Rinse in warm water – Rinsing your newly tanned skin will allow it to soak in your skin type and develop beautifully!
  • Wear loose clothes – After your session, avoid wearing fitted clothes so the tan solution will not rub off your body.
  • Avoid chemicals and adhesive – As your outermost layer has the chemical solution, keeping yourself from harmful chemicals such as chlorine and tapes would be best.
    • These products may strip your tan. The best way to make it last long is to moisturize and apply lip balm to make your skin hydrated.

Benefits of Spray Tanning

The chemical used in spray tans is NOT harmful to the outermost layer of our skin. With this, it has a lot of advantages that you can benefit from!

1. Quick and Easy

The procedure is also easy!

You simply take off your clothing and let the numerous spray guns do the work when using a tanning booth.

Within minutes, you’ll be in and out of the booth with a nice glow!

2. Show Off Your Body Confidently

Everyone enjoys getting a tan, but the majority of them have certain body parts they want to tweak or vary the tone of.

You may confidently show off your body after getting a spray tan, and it won’t feel as weird as it did previously.

3. More Toned and Slender Feeling

You may simply get a spray tan that suits your body’s needs because skin tanning solutions and other products have advanced significantly in recent years.


Below are the possible questions you might ask when planning to get a spray tan, but it is not a worry because we have the answers for you!

Is Spray Tanning Safe?


The DHA in a spray tan solution is regarded as safe when applied properly.

The FDA recommends that you cover the regions around your eyes and lips to refrain from inhaling DHA.

Is Spray Tan Better than Sun Tanning?

A spray tan is much better than sun exposure! This is because it only contains a non-carcinogenic solution.

What Spray Tan Formula Do They Use?

Dihydroxyacetone or DHA.

Dihydroxyacetone is the active component in spray tans and other sunless products like lotions and creams.

It reacts with dead skin cells on the skin’s surface when applied to the skin, momentarily darkening the skin and creating the appearance of a tan!

Final Thoughts

A spray tan will be your best friend if you want to achieve instant tanned skin in just a couple of minutes!

Spray tans work surprisingly well because they do not require much effort to achieve!

Just visit your local spray tanning salon, and voila, there you have it, a perfect fake tan for your summer glow!