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Spray Tan vs Tanning Bed: Which One Is the Safer Choice?

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD

The ULTIMATE showdown you’ve yet to see: spray tan vs. tanning bed — which one’s the champ?

Truth be told, this is a tricky question.

  • No one can say a tanning bed is an absolute winner since it exposes you to a high level of radiation.
  • Spray tan isn’t exactly perfect either as it reveals you to lots of toxic chemicals.

In the end, all we can do is scrutinize the best they offer. So today, we’re going to break down all of you’ll get from both tanning methods.

What is Spray Tanning?

What is Spray Tanning

Going for a spray tan is a great alternative to sun tanning. These self-tanners DON’T produce any UV radiation or give Vitamin D. They’re literally just a spray.

How Does This Work?

Most spray tan formulas involve having dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as their key ingredient. It’s a color additive —it’s the one RESPONSIBLE for giving you temporary tanned skin.

A chemical reaction usually happens once DHA comes in contact with the amino acids and dead skin cells lying over your outermost skin layer.  But don’t worry — it’s safe as long as it’s applied EXTERNALLY.

How Safe is It?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has actually approved using DHA in many sunless tanning lotions and tanning accelerator products.

BUT! They didn’t say anything about spray tanning…

There are still COUNTLESS tanning salons that offer such sunless tanning methods despite all the rejection of DHA usage in spray tanning.

The FDA STRICTLY SUGGESTS not to inhale or apply this chemical to the nose, eyes, and mouth.

SO YOU MUST REMEMBER: If you’re still planning to try out spray tans, You SHOULDN’T FORGET to bring face protection when you go to a spray tanning booth!

If it’s possible, wear eye goggles, nose plugs, and a breathable mouth mask during your spray tan!

Spray Tan Pros

Spray Tan Pros

1. It’s Customizable

One great thing about a tanning sprays is you have the option to CHOOSE how much tan you want to be!

If you want to achieve your desired skin type — be it a fair skin tone or with a darker shade, you can actually REQUEST it from the skincare experts.

But keep in mind spray tans won’t always show an instant glow. After all, it still depends on the type of after-care regimen you’re doing.

2. No UV Light Exposure

You know that being exposed to UV rays TOO MUCH endangers one’s health, right?

Well, you won’t have to worry about developing skin cancer in spray tanning. Even your eyes are safe from cataracts during spray tans.

3. No Risk of Sunburn

Obviously, without the blazing sun frying your skin during spray tans, you won’t experience a sunburn.

This lessens the risk of being bloated and even ‘too red’. There’s NO pain or anything — just a pure sun-kissed glow is all you’ll get.

4. It Saves Time

Do you want to be tan without spending several hours just waiting? Spray tan solution is the key.

Spray tanning is much FASTER than any other options available. Why?

It’s because spray tans don’t involve lying down and waiting for ENOUGH sunlight exposure to turn your skin tan. You’re basically just relying on a spray. Yes, a mere SPRAY!

Spray tan booths usually only have 30 SECONDS of application time! And airbrushing can take up to 25 minutes if you requested a customized pigment hue.

Spray tanning also works FAST even with drying! You’re good to go within 15 MINUTES!

Spray Tan Cons

Spray Tan Cons

1. Other Body Parts Get Stained

A spray can hit EVERY part of your body — you can’t control where it goes.

It can be quite bothersome when spray tans touch a body part you DON’T want included. This can result in stained fingers, nails, and such.

The NEED to wear gloves and everything (depending on you) might, unfortunately, come into play. Not to mention you’re already wearing protection for your face…

You’re going to look like you’re setting off for war instead of going to a tanning booth.

2. It Can Be Unsafe in Some Ways

Just as we’ve talked about earlier, DHA in spray tans can be HIGHLY DANGEROUS, especially when inhaled or absorbed by sensitive parts of the body.

The reason why DHA is not FDA-approved is that a spray tan puts your health at risk.

This report says it might show symptoms of…

  • Rashes
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Asthma
  • Premature aging
  • And worst of all, skin cancer in the long run

3. The Base Tan Easily Fades

A spray tan usually ONLY sticks to your skin within 7 to 8 days.

It also depends on the type of skin you have. On lighter skin tones, it might only last for 5 days. And with darker skin, it’ll last up to 10 days.

4. It’s High Maintenance

You’ll need to exfoliate your skin for every couple of days to have your even tan last longer, given that a spray tan ONLY stays on your skin for 10 days or less.

You may also go for spray tanning EVERY WEEK, but that sounds nothing but a hassle, right?

Also… The more appointments you have, the more money you’ll need to throw out.

What are Tanning Beds?

What are Tanning Beds

Tanning beds are shaped similarly to a coffin, but only it has ultraviolet rays… Of course, it’s not for funerals or anything!

Its ultimate purpose is to provide UV tanning. The MOST recognizable feature of tanning beds is being able to recreate sun tanning, except it’s artificial.

The lid from a tanning bed usually consists of fluorescent bulbs which emit 95% UVA radiation and 5% UVB rays.

Okay, I Hear Radiation from the Tanning Bed… Is That Safe?

Well, UVA rays have the LEAST energy among all types of rays. So technically, you’re safe on a tanning bed. All you’ll get is Vitamin D.

But bear in mind! Too much exposure to, honestly anything, leads to bad consequences.

Copy That. But is It Equal to the Level of the Sun’s UV Rays?

Frankly, it’s not. Tanning beds can produce ROUGHLY 12 TIMES of amount more than that of the sun’s capability!

It’s a SCARY amount — that’s why for first-timers, it’s advisable to stay for only 6 to 8 minutes in one tanning bed session.

On the other hand, 20 minutes is the average time for tanning bed regulars. And 20 minutes ACTUALLY equals 1-3 hours of sun exposure at the beach. You get to save a lot of time with tanning beds!

Indoor Tanning Bed Pros

Bed Pros

1. It Treats Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It has been said that sun tanning IMPROVES MOOD as light, in general, has a direct positive effect on one’s energy. And luckily, tanning beds possess this one characteristic.

So if you’re down in the dumps, you can always rely on indoor tanning beds given that they’re capable of releasing UV rays.

A tanning bed may not completely heal your blues, but at least they’ll slightly CHEER YOU UP knowing you’re getting the beauty you wanted at best.

2. The Tan Stays Longer from Tanning Beds

One advantage of tanning beds over spray tans is that tan can last on your skin from 1 up to 2 weeks! Your money’s safe for a few weeks counting from your very first session!

Though frequent use of a tanning bed is still alright (3 times a week is max) if you want to achieve your desired glow within just a few days.

But of course, it’s still better to consult a professional BEFORE you rush to tanning salons and jump into their tanning beds. Because who knows, you might have an underlying skin condition!

And make sure you refer to a proper tanning time chart for how long you can stay on the bed for a base tan. 

Indoor Tanning Bed Cons

Bed Cons

1. You’re Exposed to UV rays

The BIGGEST NO-NO in a tanning bed is that it puts your health at risk too. According to the FDA, this is what you’ll get when you have too much UV exposure:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Premature aging
  • Melanoma
  • Eye damage
  • Sunburn
  • And even skin cancer!

Spray Tan vs. Tanning Bed

Spray Tan vs. Tanning Bed

Customization: Winner – Spray Tan

Spray tan is the CLEAR WINNER here since it provides two tanning options:

  • The regular one which mostly uses the default color
  • And airbrush tanning that offers CUSTOMIZABLE shades and tones

On the other hand, a tanning bed isn’t capable of ANY of this. 

Application Time: Winner – It Depends!

This DEPENDS on what option you’ll choose.

In the case of a spray tan…

  • The regular one requires less preparation with only 30-seconds to complete the application
  • And airbrush tanning can last up to 25 minutes to ensure you get even coverage for the tan

Meanwhile, in a tanning bed, it’ll depend on whether you’re a newbie or not…

  • If you’re a tanning bed beginner, you’ll only need to spend 6-8 minutes
  • And if you’re a tanning bed regular, you’ll need to spend about 20 minutes on the tanning bed

Health Risk: Both Lose

In this category, it’s a TIE for both spray tan and tanning beds — but in a bad way.

Both options pose health risks. It’s because there’s no such thing as “healthy tan“.

In a spray tan, you’re vulnerable to DHA where you’ll mostly experience…

  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Asthma
  • Premature aging
  • And skin cancer

And in tanning beds, you’re practically burned by UV rays where it causes skin conditions and other issues like…

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Premature aging
  • Melanoma
  • Eye damage
  • Sunburn
  • And skin cancer too

Best Glow: Winner – Tanning Bed

Tanning bed wins this category.

  • Compared to spray tanning, a tanning bed is much CLOSER to what the sun actually does — releasing UV rays. A tanning bed gives more organic and naturally tan skin tone.
  • Whereas spray tan needs to perform a chemical reaction FIRST before you get tanned. It involves a LOT of synthetic processes which, in the end, provides an obvious fake tan skin tone (not to mention it sticks to your clothes sometimes)

Tips for Tanning:


We’ve prepared tips for BOTH spray tan and tanning beds to get the BEST TAN out of these methods.

Spray Tanning

BEFORE the tanning process, you must…

  • Exfoliate skin
  • Protect every part you DON’T want included
  • AVOID wearing anything aside from protection

Tanning Bed

And BEFORE diving into tanning beds, you must…

  • Take a shower and exfoliate
  • Use an indoor tanning lotion sunscreen
  • Apply lip balm with sunscreen protection
  • AVOID wearing makeup or any cologne with heavy scent

Spray Tan vs. Tanning Bed: Which is Better?

Honestly, it DEPENDS.

Just as we’ve discussed earlier, you can see both spray tan and tanning beds are WINNERS in their own ways.

We can’t say they are a completely safe alternative to sun tanning, but as long as you use these methods in moderation, then we think you’re still in safe hands.

Go with the spray tanning technique as much as you like ONLY if…

  • You want a customized beauty tan session
  • You don’t mind the easy-to-fade tan

And switch to tanning beds if…

  • You prefer a natural glow
  • You don’t mind burning your skin
  • You want to plan out your tanning bed sessions

FINAL TIP: Read our full guide on waxing BEFORE a spray tan to ensure it stays on longer!