9 Things to Know Before Your First Spray Tan

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If you’re thinking about getting a spray tan this summer to make it look like you’ve just returned from a tropical vacation without the sun damage—a wise choice—there are several important things to note. Here, top spray tan artists share their insight on what to know before your first spray tan and what to expect once you’re in the booth, so you feel more comfortable and confident from start to finish.

Most people go in fully nude.

“This is your call,” says Jules Von Hep, celebrity spray tan artist and creator of Isle of Paradise. “Remember it’s your body, and what you feel comfortable doing is more than OK. Most of my clients go completely naked—that’s the norm—but some wear bikinis and others just wear underwear. I always recommend going topless, although it is possible to blend out strap marks. The results are much better with maximum skin on show during the application.” Whatever you choose to wear will leave tan lines behind, adds Kristyn Pradas, celebrity spray tan artist and founder of Pradas Glow.

“Remember, spray tan artists do this for a living. Just like nurses and doctors see all bodies, so do we, every single day,” adds Von Hep. “It’s highly unlikely that something you might be self-conscious about is something your spray tanner hasn’t seen before.”

Many salons let you request a man or woman spray tan artist.

“That will be at your salon’s discretion,” says Von Hep. “As a male spray tanner, I used to have many female clients say they felt more comfortable with a gay male man than a woman. Remember, everyone is different and your tanner will understand your choices completely.”

Always exfoliate and shave beforehand.

Exfoliation is essential because you create a smooth canvas for your self-tan to adhere to,” says Von Hep. “Removing dead skin cells prior to application will help make your tan look more even and will also help the tan fade more evenly too.” Pradas notes that using a non oil-based scrub or natural loofah is recommended, and exfoliating your skin two to three days in a row before your tan is beneficial. “Make sure to exfoliate your entire body where the tanner will be applied and focus on the areas that are prone to dryness, such as ankles, heels, knees, elbows, hands, knuckles, and any others.”

Shaving before your spray tan is also important. “Something people forget is that shaving actually is a form of exfoliation, so make sure you do that last,” Von Hep explains. “Shaving over a spray tan can actually strip off the color! I recommend shaving or waxing at least 24 hours prior to self-tan so the skin has calmed down.” If you’re getting laser hair removal, schedule your appointment four or five days before your tan, Pradas adds.

Remove your makeup, skin care and jewelry beforehand, too.

“It is best to remove all of your makeup to prevent creating a barrier, which will result in an uneven, lighter tan,” says Pradas. “Avoid applying any perfume, creams, lotions, or makeup before a self-tanning application, as a clean canvas is always best. It is best to remove all jewelry, too, because anything that remains on during the tan can leave a tan line.”

But what about infinity bracelets that can’t be removed? “We have lots of tricks on how to work around infinity bracelets; however, you may still notice that the tan is a little lighter where the jewelry was,” Pradas adds.

Do not wear antiperspirant or deodorant.

Pradas would shout this one from the rooftops if she could: “Do not wear antiperspirant! The aluminum will turn your armpits green,” she explains. “If you use regular deodorant [aluminum-free] and it contains fragrance, you should also avoid using it prior to the tan, as the fragrance can turn your tan green as well.”

Von Hep says the ingredients in deodorants also don’t allow the spray tan to penetrate the skin well, so the result is underarms that are much paler than the rest of the skin.

Bring proper clothes to wear after your tan.

Dark, loose-fitting clothes are the best option to wear after a spray tan. “I suggest to my clients that they don’t wear undergarments either,” says Von Hep. “Your bra can cause uneven lines as your spray is developing! Kaftans are ideal; activewear is not ideal. Slide shoes are great—think a loose, suede Birkenstock—and no socks.”

Pradas prefers to wear a hoodie and sweatpants. “This way I prevent any lines around my neck and I prevent transferring the tan in case I cross my legs.”

Know how dark you want to go.

If you are a newbie, Pradas says it’s better to start light and gradually go darker. “This will allow you to understand how the self-tanner reacts with your skin, from color and duration to the natural exfoliation process of your skin with self-tanner, etc.” We recommend reading reviews from others who have been spray-tanned at the salon you’re going to, and/or looking at their social media pages for an idea of their formulas and shades.

But shouldn’t the spray tan artist know what will work best on each person? “In theory they should, but remember, you have to build a rapport and understanding with one another,” says Von Hep. “The first time they tan you, chances are it won’t be the perfect self-tan for you. The next time you visit, you have to communicate with them about what you liked and didn’t like. It’s possible to make the legs darker or the face lighter. If you’re nervous, a good tip is to moisturize your body the morning of your self-tan. It will stop the tan from developing as dark.”

Additionally, to this point, you may want to schedule a trial spray tan the month before your big event or trip, etc., so you can get figure out what tweaks you’d like to make next time.

You may look darker than expected at first.

“The first day of the tan you see the bronzer—this is what washes off when you rinse,” says Pradas. “While your tan develops under the bronzer, you can appear very dark in some circumstances, but this will lighten up once you rinse at the correct development time. After your first rinse, you won’t have to worry about being too dark, like you may have been the day of the spray tan. Usually day two is the darkest day of your rinsed and developed spray tan.”

Von Hep recommends getting a spray tan two days prior to an event. “Some clients—myself included—take longer to develop than others. Tans develop at different rates on different people—it’s the beauty of the skin we’re in. Usually a tan’s optimum day is two and three.” This is when it will look the darkest.

You can’t shower right away.

“Your spray tan artist will tell you when to shower, as there are different types of solutions on the market with different development times,” Pradas says. “Our classic spray tan requires six to 12 hours before a rinse, but we also have express versions where you want to rinse between one and five hours after your spray tan.”

Von Hep adds that not only can you not shower, but you also can’t get wet during the development time. “No sweating, no swimming and no sex. But once you’ve showered, you’re good to carry on as normal.”

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