33 Common Spray Tan Problems, and how to fix them!

The biggest fear that any spray tanner has is that they will do wrong by their client and give them anything less than a flawless, beautiful tan. I don’t want you to ever receive that dreaded phone call, so I’ve made a list of the 35 most common spray tan problems; best of all, I’ve also provided some fantastic tips on how to deal with each of those issues too!
Remember: knowledge is power! The more you study these spray tan problems, the better equipped you will be to handle or avoid them. Similarly, make sure you relate some of these helpful tips to your clients so that they better understand how to get the best spray tan service, and so they realize the consequences of not following your guidelines!

1.     Improper Spray Tan Technique

Spray Tanning with an improper technique can often actually be the cause of many of these other problems. I recommend using a side-to-side technique, as taught at Aviva Labs Academy, over an up-and-down spray tan technique. The side-to-side technique produces a more natural-looking tan and allows you to finish each pass in the “negative space” on either side of the client’s body. This is the preferred method because it ensures that you are not stopping and reversing direction while still spraying on their skin: doing so will result in DHA oversaturation!
If you are experiencing less than perfect results with your up-and-down technique, but feel like you are doing everything else correctly then try out the side-to-side technique instead!

2.     Uneven spray tan/missed spots while spray tanning

If your client ever complains about having received an uneven tan, or that you missed spots while tanning them, then it could be one of two things:
Technique: Make sure you are spraying with the tines of the gun 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock (the tines will be horizontal). This way the pattern of the spray on the client’s skin will be vertical. This is the best pattern to use with the side-to-side spray tan technique as it ensures the best coverage so you don’t miss any spots or hit other parts of the body more.
Another tip to remember is that a spray tan service not a race! If you are receiving complaints about missed spots or a tan that’s lighter in one area, but darker in another: slow down when you spray. Make sure you are covering each part of the body in slow, deliberate passes.
Equipment: If you are using an HPLV Airbrush Needle instead of an HVLP Spray Machine then you will certainly have some difficulty in providing a beautiful, even tan. The reason for this is because of the size of the spray pattern. An airbrush needle sprays in a tight, roughly quarter-sized pattern, which makes it nearly impossible to evenly spray an entire body. By comparison, the HVLP Spray Gun sprays in a wide swathe for much easier coverage. The HVLP system also means you are finishing an entire fully body service in about 10-15 minutes; with an HPLV airbrush you can expect to at least triple that time.

3.     White lines along the knuckles or side of the thumb after spray tanning client’s hand

If your client is struggling with this, have them try this method: when you are going to spray their hands, have your client make a claw, as if they are holding a grapefruit in each of their hands. This will prevent the natural wrinkles at our knuckle joints from closing and blocking the spray tan from reaching those areas. And just like that, Voila!, the lines aren’t a problem anymore!

4.     Very obvious tan line from hair caps or hair nets

Many times, clients feel the need to wear a hair cap while spray tanning. This stems from the heavy spraying done within spray tan booths and isn’t a requirement when receiving a personalized spray tan by a certified professional. If your client still insists on wearing one then the best technique is to have them pull the net or cap back slightly from their forehead so that the solution can blend in with the hair line.

5.     Discolored fingernails and toenails after spray tanning

Fingernails and toenails do tend to turn colors when spray tan solution is sprayed over them. Usually this color will rub off once you rinse away the bronzers, but to avoid it entirely just use a tab of moisturizer on each nail before you spray tan!

6.     Client’s armpit turned green after spray tanning

This has happened so many times that we actually now sell an exfoliating sluff wipe specifically for this reason. If your client complains about their armpit turning green after spray tanning it is because they did not remove all the deodorant before coming in for the service. The bronzers in a spray tan will react with many ingredients in deodorants, causing this discoloration. Thankfully the lasting DHA tan underneath will not suffer from this discoloration; however, it’s important to note that if the client did have deodorant on during their spray tan service then it could have caused a barrier between the spray tan solution and their skin so even after the discoloration has been rinsed away there is still the possibility that the lasting tan might be lighter than expected.
Combatting this is easy: remind your clients to exfoliate their armpits, and if they forget make sure you have sluff wipes available so that they can exfoliate before their service.

7.     White spots, streaking spots on top of client’s shoulders and neck after a spray tan

Chances are this is due to your client having shampoo residue on their shoulders. This can be caused by their normal shower routine or, if they exfoliated, by shampooing after they exfoliated. It can also be that they forgot to or did not properly exfoliate their shoulders and neck, allowing a residue barrier to inhibit the tan in those areas. Address this issue with your clients and make sure they understand that exfoliating is the very last step for their skin before the spray tan service: they should not be applying any products after they exfoliate!

8.     Discolored feet after spray tanning

Feet (and palms) tan much easier than most other parts of your body. Because of this they can also be discolored much more easily. That’s why ensuring a client’s tan is flawless from head to toe can be so tricky sometimes, but there are really only two common reasons why your client’s feet are discolored after their spray tan service.
The first is that you are spraying their feet directly rather than using the “Feathering” method. With the feathering method, you are spraying less solution onto the client’s foot. Don’t worry: because their feet tan easily they will still develop nicely!
The other possibility could be that you are spraying too much in general. We recommend a total of two ounces of solution per full body spray tan. If you are spraying too much then gravity is going to kick in and guess where all that overspray is going to end up? On your client’s feet. By using less solution, you are not only saving yourself some money, but you are also generating less overspray so there won’t be any fear of discoloration on the top, or bottom, of your client’s feet!

9.     Spray tan on face is too dark

Nobody wants to have a bad spray tan on their face. It’s kind of a visible area, so it’s pretty important to make sure that it’s a flawless tan every time! Most often, looking like you have too dark of a tan on your face is a result of literally using too much solution (remember: two ounces for the entire body, not just the neck up!) or being sprayed with a percentage that is too high for your skin type. That’s why it’s always incredibly important to have a consultation before your spray tan. Talk it out with your spray tan professional and find out what solution will work best for you. Just because you want to go dark doesn’t mean you need to go with a stronger percentage: you might just need a darker undertone to your tan. (Try the interactive color guide here!)

10.  Hands and face fading much faster than rest of the spray tan

The reason for this one is pretty simple: you wash your hands and face more than any other part of your body. Double that with the fact that your hands and your face are the most exposed parts of your body and you’ve got a recipe for a faster-fading tan. Because they are more exposed to the elements it’s also important to give your hands and face a little extra love when it comes to your spray tan. The best thing for you to do is get a moisturizer that has DHA blended into it so that you can boost up your color and keep it going strong with the rest of your tan.

11.  Leaky Spray Tan Cup

A leaky cup can be the source of less-than-perfect spray tan results (and the reason why you’re swearing!). A leaking spray tan cup is an indication of an imperfect air seal. Without an air seal, the air flow will be diminished. With diminished air flow, the spray tan solution will not spray properly, potentially resulting in all sorts of problems like speckling, dripping, spotting, uneven fading, and it can even cause the tan to not develop at all!
There are several parts in a spray tan gun to check for quality, proper placement, cleaning, and maintenance. The best advice is to contact the company you purchased the spray tan machine from to help troubleshoot the issue, or contact us and we’ll help you out!

12.  What to do if it’s raining on the day of your spray tan appointment

Some things can’t be helped and sometimes the weather just is not going to cooperate with your spray tan service, which I personally think is quite rude. The last thing you want to do is walk out in the rainstorm after you’ve received your spray because at that point the DHA has not had time to develop so any drops that hit you are going to mean a light spot or streak in your tan.
Now that doesn’t mean you should cancel your appointment though!
Many salons and spas that offer spray tanning have already prepared for this day. Many offer complimentary umbrellas or rain ponchos. Some will even run out to get your car for you–how nice is that?!
So you got out of the salon and home…now what?
The good news is that you’re not stuck at home. If you opt to go with a rapid tan solution then you’ll be able to rinse off the bronzers sooner (sometimes in as little as 30 minutes!). Once you have reached your “rinse off time”, the DHA has already been activated with your skin. At this point it’s perfectly fine for you to go outside and dance in the rain–your tan won’t be affected by water after that initial rinse!

13.  Spray Tan smells like alcohol, smells like cough syrup, or has other strong fragrances/odors

If your spray tan smells like cough syrup, or if it has a fragrance like coconuts or black cherries then that is a very good indication that it was formulated with lesser-quality DHA. DHA, when formulated properly, has virtually no smell whatsoever. Unfortunately for many companies, it requires a strong understanding of chemistry to properly formulate DHA. Their workaround? Flood their solutions with other fragrances to cover up the bad DHA smell, which smells like burnt french fries.
This is good to remember because if your clients are complaining that their tans are fading unevenly, are underperforming, are fading faster than expected, or that the results just aren’t as good as what they’ve experienced with other solutions, the culprit could be hiding right under your nose!
Give your solution the sniff test: does have a fragrance? If it does, you might be trying to tan clients with a poorly formulated solution!

14.  Shaved and your tan disappeared or shaved your beard after your tan, and now have a funny tan line

If you have a client come in with a beard, the first thing to ask is: “are you planning on shaving that anytime soon?” If they answer yes, do not give them a spray tan! The reason for this is because, just like a sun tan, a spray tan will not penetrate to the skin underneath the coarse beard hair. If you do spray tan over that bearded wonder then when he shaves he’s going to have a very noticeable tan line!
Likewise with shaving in general: if a client shaves the day after a tan they will notice a significant loss of color. This is because, at its core, shaving is an extremely exfoliating activity. I mean, you are taking a razor blade and scraping your skin with it–yeah: that’s going to cause some skin cell loss!
So how do you combat this loss of color?
Well, we don’t expect your clients to go 15 days without shaving their legs or their face stubble, that’s for sure! If your clients use a moisturizer that has been blended with DHA then it will counteract much of the exfoliation from shaving by reinvigorating their tans with a boost of color. It’s important to tell your clients to use the DHA-boosted moisturizer each and every time they shave–that’s the only way they’ll be able to ensure their tan stays as vibrant as possible!

15.  Lines on knees and elbows after a spray tan

Similar to the issue of having white lines appear on your knuckles, having white lines appear on your elbows and knees after your spray tan service is a result of the client not being positioned properly for that portion of the spray tan. As you spray tan their joints, it’s important to make sure your client’s arms and legs are bent. Doing so will prevent any skin from wrinkling up and blocking the tan in that area. Simple as that!

16.  Can I tan if I have a sunburn?

It’s not recommended. If you’ve recently gotten a sunburn then your skin is going to start peeling soon. Once it does, you’re going to lose that beautiful tan you just got! It’s much better to wait until after your skin has had a chance to recover before setting your next spray tan appointment.

17.  My client has a sunburn, but insists on getting a spray tan. How do I make sure they get the best results?

So even though it’s not recommended, some people might insist on getting a spray tan despite having a sunburn. There are many legitimate reasons for this: maybe they are going to a wedding, a date, or some other special event. What’s important now is that you set the expectations with your client, and then provide the best service possible. It’s important to note that if your client is just getting sprayed for an event then their best option might be to go with a bronzer-only solution, or a traditional tan that allows them to leave the bronzer on. This might be the best option because the bronzer could act as a cover up for the event, allowing your client to use the spray tan to temporarily disguise the sunburn.

18.  Streaky/Runny results during spray tan

If you are spraying and you notice that the tanning solution is creating streaks or running down your client’s legs and arms then there are two things that you might need to address. First, how much solution are you using? With an oil-free spray tan solution you should only be using two ounces per full body spray tan service. If you are using more than two ounces then you might be oversaturating your client’s skin, causing streakiness or runs. If that’s not the problem then the next thing to check is how close you are to your client when spray tanning. For our spray tan technique we recommend having the gun no closer than six inches, and no farther away than a foot, from the client at all times. Spraying too far away could result in a very light tan, and likewise spraying too close could result in streaks, runs, or a tan that is far too dark.

19.  Streaky/Runny-looking Tan after spray tan development

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If your client didn’t notice any streaking or running before their initial rinse off, but then is complaining about it after their rinse off then what must have happened is that water, or some other liquid, came into contact with their spray tan. It is of the utmost importance to remind them that they need to stay away from things like rain, sweating, swimming, spilling drinks, dogs that like to lick, and babies that like to drool while their tan is developing. Any of these could cause runs or streaks on their lasting tans, so they’ll have to live with it until their spray tan fades!

20.  Sprayed, but no tan develops

Have you recently spray tanned a client and they complained that no tan has developed? This could be one of two things. The first thing to do is to double check what solution you used. If it was a City Tan then the client is most likely worrying over nothing: the solution will appear as if it has completely washed away, but that is just the bronzer. Over the next 8-12 hours, their lasting tan will continually darken until they are nice and tan once again! Just be sure they are carefully following the timeline of when their skin type should wash off a rapid tan–you don’t want them looking too dark!
The second scenario is an issue though! It could be that they washed off too early with a traditional tan. Traditional tans require at least 8-12 hours to fully develop, during which time they are extremely vulnerable to water. If your client rinsed off before the 8-12 hour requirement then chances are they will not have received any lasting tan whatsoever. It’s hard news, but they’ll have to come back in for another spray tan.

21.  Client touched something, accidentally rubbed off their tan, or wore skinny jeans/tight socks

This problem is more common among oil-based solutions that take longer to dry because there is a larger window of opportunity for the tanning product to be touched and shifted by clothing, but keep in mind that this can happen to water-based solutions too. If it does occur then simply offer a touchup spray for the area–no harm done! If the client enters your salon with skinny jeans or other tight clothing, you should remind them that the best outfit to wear for a spray tan service will be a loose one. Some companies do offer tanning dresses, or other clothing specifically designed for spray tanning, so be sure to have some of those in stock to offer as well!

22.  Face fading faster than rest of the tan

Our faces will always fade faster than the rest of our tans. This is because our face is most exposed to the elements (think wind, rain, snow, dirt), and also typically endures the most rigorous daily routines (makeup application and removal, moisturizers, cleansers). But all is not lost! As long as you are regularly using a tan extending moisturizer your tan should remain nice and even. If you are noticing that your face is still fading faster than the rest of your tan then it might help to pick up a stronger product or increase you use of the tan extender.


If this occurs then you are probably using a DHA percentage that is too strong for your skin type. Another problem that sometimes occurs is that you did use the correct percentage, or at least what you thought was the correct percentage: sometimes companies approximate their solution percentages rather than know for sure what the strength is. Try using the next DHA percentage level down (and please try to remove the tan!).
Trying out a new solution and don’t want to risk using too a too-strong percent? Not all companies are the same! Start with one of the lesser percentages (like an 8% or a 9%) rather than jumping right to the percentage you were using with your original company: your new company’s 8% might be equivalent to your old company’s 10%.

24.  My spray tan looked good when I went to bed, but when I woke up I had patches

This will only occur if you sleep overnight in your spray tan solution before the initial rinse off of bronzers. What typically occurs is that one part of your body (usually your hand or foot) is resting on top of another part of your body and leeching the color out of that area. The easiest way to identify if this is happening is to look at your palms: if they are orange, then you’ve just found the problem! The best way to deal with this is to sleep without your hands resting on your body. Obviously there is no way to prevent then while you’re actually sleeping so we have heard of some people who wear loose gloves to bed. Personally, we recommend choosing a rapid tan instead if you are noticing that this is an issue.

25.  Flaky Tan

Flaky tans are most often the result of dry skin. What is happening is that you are giving your client a spray tan over skin that is already dead/dying and about to fall off. Solutions containing alcohols or witch hazel are known to exacerbate this problem, but regularly moisturizing and properly exfoliating before your spray tan should solve the issue.

26.  My spray tan faded after working out

Always remember that if you are planning on working out after your spray tan that you will have to wait until you have rinsed off. For rapid tans this could mean waiting as little as 30 minutes, but for traditional solutions this will require 8-12 hours. Because sweat is very salty, be sure to apply moisturizer after your post-workout shower to reinvigorate your skin!

27.  Too much tan between the fingers

If you notice your clients are walking away with the spaces between their fingers darker than the rest of their hand then chances are you are spraying too heavily. Since it’s a liquid, oftentimes solution will pool in those crevices. If you’re afraid of missing those areas then have your client hold their hand like they are sizing up a grapefruit, that way the crevice is exposed and you won’t feel the need to spray more.

28.  Client shaved and now has a tan line where his beard once was

This normally will only occur with beards that are pretty thick/coarse. With thinner beards the solution will still be able to “get through” to the skin, though chances are it might still be a bit lighter than the rest of his face. With a thicker beard though you can expect a major tan line. We recommend always asking your bearded clients if they intend on shaving off their soup catchers anytime soon. If not then it won’t be a problem anyways! If they are planning to shave, warn them that they will have a pretty interesting tanline: they might want to reschedule!

29.  Spraying too close to your client

Simply put, if you spray too close to your client there is a good chance that the tan is going to look bad. Spraying too close often leads to spray tan solution bouncing off the client’s skin rather than adhering or can lead to overapplication, which will mean they will likely look far too dark or even orange. We recommend spraying no closer than six inches and no greater than 12 inches from your client’s skin (except when feathering or contouring).

30.  Overspray/solution getting on work surfaces

Sick of having to wipe down EVERYTHING after a spray tan service? First, make sure you’re only using about 2 ounces of solution–anything more and you’re likely losing a lot to overspray. Second, make sure your gun’s air flow control knob is turned down to the correct level (contact your spray tan manufacturer for help with this if need be!). Third, check the ventilation of your room. A well ventilated room will decrease the occurrence of overspray, and an extraction fan will negate it almost entirely!

31.  Spray Tanning overweight or full-figured clients

A lot of people dread spray tanning overweight clients for fear of doing wrong by them. They want to give them the same flawless spray tan, but don’t know if they should be doing anything differently. What we recommend is to spray tan an overweight client as you would a client of average weight.
If your client has rolls or creases, just remember that those areas are probably already very fair/pale by comparison because the sun usually doesn’t reach those places so a natural-looking spray tan doesn’t have to either, unless they want it to of course! If your client would like a “full” tan then politely ask them to hold the area open while you spray, then remind them that they will have to wait until the solution dries before you can move on to the next!
For clients with large breasts who want an even tan beneath: tactfully and politely ask them to raise their breasts so that you can spray underneath, then remind them that they will have to wait until the solution dries before they can let them rest (also remember not to spray tan their hands before doing this!).

32.  Spraying over an existing tan line

Spray tanning over an existing tan line is perfectly fine. If your client doesn’t mind if they still have a tan line after the service then just spray as normal; if your client requests that you blend the tan line then you’ll want to simply spray a bit more on the untanned portion of their skin. It’s that easy!

33.  Spray tanning nervous/fearful clients (who are afraid of turning orange)

If you’re client is afraid of turning orange, or nervous about being too dark, then the best course of action is to use a very low percentage solution on them. We recommend a 6% or, at most, an 8% to help ease them into spray tanning. Once they get their first taste of how fantastic they look, don’t be surprised if next time around they ask for a 10% or even higher: at this point, just remember to stick to the Fitzpatrick Scale and give them the tan that their skin type can actually handle or else their worst fears might come true after all. (Or, just send them this other article before their spray tan!)

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