How to Prep for a Spray Tan (and Make It Last)!

Having been a tanning bed regular in my high school years (almost every day at the tanning salon), I’ve been trying to avoid “getting sun” as much as possible as I get older to try and mitigate some of that damage. Big sunhats, rash guards, etc., are my best friends. BUT, I miss the glow and even skin tone that a tan could give. I remember getting my first spray tan in maybe 2002? Wow, things have come a long way since then. The orange-tinted nightmare has now become, in some cases, a very convincing substitute for the real deal! So grateful for that. My favorite kind of tan is an airbrush tan where someone has the spray machine and they do it manually. It’s usually not cheap, but proper preparation can have a major effect on how long your spray tan investment lasts. Here is the timeline I follow that’s given the best results:

Five days to 8 hours before your spray tan:

I like to start my exfoliating/hydrating routine about 3-5 days before my spray tan and carry it through until the night before—this way your skin is really optimally exfoliated and moisturized instead of a “last-ditch effort” the night before.

I absolutely love this scrub from First Aid Beauty. I have keratosis pilaris and this really helps with that as well as being a great physical exfoliant. My favorite “scrubbing” tip is to actually exfoliate in gentle circles—this works just as well as a firm touch. Scrubbing hard is only going to inflame your skin, so be sweet to it. 🙂

My custom lotion from Function Of Beauty (use that link for 20% off your first order) is my favorite for quick and easy hydration.

I’ve recently started incorporating dry brushing into my routine again after years of not doing it, and I feel like dry brushing before your shower really helps to exfoliate even further.

Twenty-four to 12 hours before your appointment:

If you wax, wax at least 24 hours before your appointment.

I shave, so I normally do that the night before my spray tan—at least 12 hours before.

Day of spray tan:

Take a shower so your skin is clean (remember, do not shave or wax!), and do not put any oil or lotion on your skin afterward. Anything on your skin could lead to the tan not developing correctly or getting streaky/blotchy. If you’re worried about certain areas being too dry and taking on too much of the tanning solution, your salon should have a special oil-free lotion that you can apply to places like your nail beds and knuckles.

Be sure to wear loose clothing! Anything that rubs against your skin right after your spray tan will disrupt the tan’s development—I even go so far as to not wear a bra because I know that will leave marks.

Avoid sweating after your appointment. I usually wait until I wash off the tan for the first time to exercise or do anything I know will make me really sweaty.

Be sure to wait the appropriate amount of time before showering. Depending on what type of spray tan you get, there will be a period of time you’ll need to wait while the tan fully develops. Your esthetician/tech will tell you this info!

After your spray tan:

Hydrating is going to be key to prolonging the life of your tan—the dryer your skin, the more it’s going to flake off and disrupt your tan. This gradual tanning lotion from Vita Liberata made a spray tan I had last for 12 days—it was incredible and I swear by it!

Obviously, you have to shower, but the more you shower or are in the pool, you are shortening the life of your tan. I find that using a gradual tan lotion like the one above helps so much if you’re on a beach vacation or something where you’re in the water a lot.

I hope this was helpful, and if you have any favorite spray tan prep/maintenance tips, please share them below! xo Keely

Credits // Author: Keely Rust. Photography: Amber Kelly.

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