The Skinny on Spray Tans

By Kim Taylor


I gave up UV tanning beds a long time ago, even before I started worrying about skin cancer. I always burned, and my skin was ALWAYS itchy and dry. I’ve tried every type of self-tanner you can imagine; cheap brands from Wal-Mart and not-so-cheap brands from makeup counters at department stores. I’ve even ordered “miracle” tanners from midnight infomercials. I’ve carefully followed the most ridiculous instructions you can imagine (sleeping naked on a beach towel with a fan blowing on me all night, for starters). I have stood in spray booths that turned me into a streaky mess and I have been airbrushed the most beautiful shades of orange imaginable.

Even with my personal sunless tanning experience, there was plenty to learn when I began researching a sunless system for Essence. Without getting too detailed and boring, I’d like to explain how a spray tan works, what to expect before, during, and after your appointment, and why it is a great alternative to UV tanning.



The beauty of a spray tan is that the product reacts in accordance with each client’s skin, making every application unique. Tanning solutions can be formulated for desired darkness, but keep in mind that a healthy natural glow always looks best during every phase of the spray tan’s life.

Once the client is properly prepped, the artistry begins. The tanning solution contains a cosmetic bronzer that can be seen immediately but will wash off in the shower. This bronzer is used as a color guide for the technician to ensure even coverage. Because we come in all different beautiful shapes and sizes, there is quite a bit of thought and effort that goes into giving every client their best possible tan. Each certified technician has a foundation of training combined with their own experience, both spraying and being sprayed.


The active ingredient in self-tanners is a natural DHA which reacts with amino acids found in the outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Simply put, this reaction turns the acids a slightly rusty brown color that continues to darken over the next 16-18 hours.

Preferred Product

At Essence, we use Norvell sunless products for two reasons- training and results. All of our spray tan technicians have been trained and are certified by the company. Norvell tanning solutions are fast drying, non-sticky and streak-free. You may not realize how important these three things are until you try a product that doesn’t have them. Norvell Sunless provides the color of a natural suntan without harming delicate skin cells.


Properly preparing your skin is key in achieving optimal results. The tan develops on the outermost layer of skin, so exfoliating, shaving, and waxing 24 hours prior to application is crucial. The body naturally exfoliates its outermost layer every 4-6 days, therefore exfoliating before a tanning session will ensure that the newest skin possible is being sprayed for a long lasting, even result. Scrubs used for pre-tan exfoliation must be oil free. However, loofahs and body scrubbing mitts are even better tools for the job.

Do not wear body lotion, deodorant, perfume, or makeup during your appointment. These products create a barrier that the tanning solution may not fully penetrate which may lead to uneven results.


Your technician will help you get situated and answer any questions before excusing herself while you change. Most women tan nude. However, you should undress to your comfort level. If you choose to wear something during your tan it should be similar to or smaller than your swim suit as you will have tan lines. Men must wear underwear or swim bottoms.

You will be given sticky feet to protect the soles of your feet from being tanned as well as a clip and/or shower cap for your hair as necessary. Your technician will go through a preparation process to ensure the best results possible. This includes barrier cream and pH balancing spray and may vary client to client, visit to visit depending on your skin. You will be directed on how to position your body for optimal results and may use warm air from the tanning machine to dry your skin as she works, and again when she is finished spraying you.


Your new tan needs time and space to dry and process. Once you feel dry, change into loose clothing and sandals. Wait 12-24 hours before showering or participating in activities that cause perspiration. When it is time to shower, use warm water and mild soap. From this point forward, you’ll want to moisturize your skin liberally.

Spray tans are water resistant, but exposure to abrasive soap and products that contain alcohol is discouraged. It is also a good idea to avoid chlorine for at least 48 hours. Healthy hydrated skin does not self-exfoliate as quickly, thus keeping the skin moisturized is a major factor in the longevity of a spray tan.

Spray Tan v. Sun Tan

The sad truth is there is no such thing as a “safe suntan”, whether it’s from the actual sun or an indoor tanning bed. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified tanning beds as “’Group One’, which identifies the most harmful forms of radiation, those that are ‘carcinogenic [cancer-causing] to humans’”. At this time, spray tans are the safest alternative if you want to be “tan”.

Last but Not Least

There is no such thing as a “base tan” that will protect you from the sun. Some people may be more genetically fortunate than others in their skin’s ability to handle sun damage. However, just because your skin is not visibly burning does not mean that you are safe from the potentially harmful effects of the sun.

There is a common misconception that spray tans protect you from sunburn and UV damage. This is simply not true. To be clear, spray tans DO NOT contain sunscreen and cannot protect you from the sun; you should ALWAYS wear sunscreen outdoors.

In Conclusion

Done well, a spray tan is a very natural and believable. If you are attending an event, we recommend getting sprayed 24-72 hours beforehand. While many people like to get sprayed for special occasions and vacations, we have plenty of clients that come in regularly, year-round to maintain a natural, healthy glow. A single session is $33. If you plan to come in regularly, we offer a four-pack for only $112. Many clients come in for a single session and love it so much they end up purchasing a package.

At Essence, the intention in all that we do is to help you look and feel beautiful. If you have any further questions regarding spray tanning or any of the other great services we offer, please do not hesitate to contact our front desk to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our service professionals.