How long do spray tans last? 5 to 15 days. Pretty easy, right? Now comes the tricky part: how to get your tan to last out to that 15 day mark instead of just lasting 5. For that, I have good news and bad news:
The bad news is that, chances are, you’re the one preventing your tan from lasting 15 days. The good news? I’m the one who’s going to help you change all that. You can thank me later, but for now: let’s get started!
The first step in understanding how to get the most out of your tan is understanding how your tan got there in the first place. While it may seem like magic, the darkening of your skin is due to a naturally derived ingredient called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA for short). As you know, the color is only temporary though! This is because, unlike UV rays from a natural sun tan, spray tanning only affects the topmost layer of your skin. This means that the tan you just got from your friendly spray tan professional will only last as long as that top layer of skin, which is determined by your personal skin cycle (where dead skin sloughs off and is replaced by newer skin underneath).
While everyone’s skin cycle is as unique as they are, there are still proven ways to lengthen the time between skin cell birth and death; better, there are also ways you can improve your spray tan prep to get more out of each visit!
Before Your Spray Tan
Even when you’re not spray tanning, exfoliation is a good idea, but it’s an even better idea when you are spray tanning. Exfoliating cleans your pores, removes unwanted residues from soaps, shampoos, fragrances (and who knows what else you touched today), and best of all it also restarts your skin cycle by removing all the older skin, bringing you to a clean slate. This is perfect for spray tanning because the fresher your skin is the longer you have before your tan starts fading, and because exfoliating removes those residues, which can actually create a barrier between you and your tan. By exfoliating properly you can extend the life of your tan by up to three days!
- PH Balancing Sprays, Prep sprays, Barrier creams
Simply put: avoid PH Balancing Sprays, avoid Prep sprays, and don’t use Barrier creams. Anything that is sprayed or applied to your skin prior to your spray tan service is going to negatively impact your tan by creating a barrier between you and the solution. This barrier means that the tanning solution is not adhering as effectively as it could, so you aren’t getting the best tan results possible, resulting in a faster fading tan and in some cases a blotchy or patchy tan where the DHA couldn’t get through at all due to the barrier.
What about the benefits of using them? (This is usually where readers get mad!)
Unfortunately it’s been proven that PH Balancing Sprays and other prep products offer no discernible benefit to a spray tan. The sad fact is that those products are just another way for the companies that produce them to make money. In actuality, because they create a barrier between you and your tanning solution, these products can make your tan results worse instead of better! Mad yet? Yeah, I thought you might be! (Click here to read more on PH Balancers)
It is okay to shave the morning of your spray tan, but only if the service is still a few hours away, and only if you have time to exfoliate your skin afterwards. The reason these requirements are in place is because shaving opens up the pores in your skin and the shaving cream leaves a residue on your skin, both of which can negatively impact a tan’s life expectancy and performance. If you absolutely must shave right before your tan, do so with lukewarm water, a brand new razor, and an oil-free shaving cream; the results won’t be perfect, but they’ll be better than the alternative!
- Sun burns
For pretty obvious reasons, skin peeling from sunburns can wreak havoc on a spray tan. In fact, the results are often so unpredictable that many spray tan professionals will refuse to spray you if you’ve been recently burned! The reason for this is simple: a sunburn causes your skin to slough off in big patches, resulting in a horribly uneven tan that can virtually disappear overnight as you peel. The best advice? Wait until after your skin has recovered before getting your next spray tan–and of course: don’t get burned!!
After Your Spray Tan
- Solution with Alcohol
Solutions are often blended with alcohol to act as a drying agent for your spray tan. The idea is that the alcohol will make the stickiness and tackiness of an oil-based spray tan dissipate faster. Unfortunately this comes at a price. Just as the alcohol is drying out your tan, it is also drying out your skin. Drier skin is proven to have a much higher turnover rate than moisturized skin, so alcohol will actually be causing your tan to fade faster and unevenly. There are ways around this, like moisturizing far more frequently than you normally would, but the easiest we’ve found is to simply offer products that do not contain alcohol. Having an alcohol-free solution means that your skin won’t be turning over faster, extending the life of your tan! (More horrible effects of alcohol in a spray tan)
- Tight clothing after the service
Everyone loves fitting into their skinny jeans, but when it comes to spray tanning that’s a big “No No”. As you’ve probably noticed before, a spray tan rubs off on clothing. You may think that this is just the bronzers rubbing off, but with oil-based solutions this is also a strong indication that you are losing DHA as well! The less DHA you have on your skin, the lighter your tan is going to develop and the sooner you’re going to be booking another appointment with your local spray tan studio. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t still be fashionable! Wearing a loose fitting dress is always an option, and you can still rock a skirt–just don’t cinch that belt or tightly lace up those boots until after the DHA has had a chance to develop and you’ll be fine!
- Rinsing off too early
The most catastrophic thing you can do to a tan is wash it off too early, before the DHA has had a chance to work its magic. This will result in you completely losing your tan (or at least most of it), and possibly your voice from screaming at yourself. Now, before you say anything you’ll regret, just remember: most “traditional” spray tan solutions require a full 8-12 hours to develop. There are rapid tan solutions out there, which means you can leave the solution on for as little as 30 minutes in some cases, but it’s important to understand that you’ll still lose your bronzer color when you first rinse off with a rapid tan. Don’t freak out though: the tan from a rapid solution will darken over time (that same 8-12 hours), and you’ll be tan again soon!
- Using products that harm/negatively affect a spray tan
Maintaining your skin’s health with different beauty products is always a good idea, but when it comes to your spray tan there are a surprising number of products that can actually harm your tan! There are too many to go into in this article, but a good rule of thumb is to purchase beauty products that have been specifically tested for use with spray tanning, such as those skin care lines sold by spray tan solution manufacturer’s; failing that, I recommend finding simple soaps, shampoos, and scrubs that have the fewest ingredients possible: the fewer the ingredients, the less likely it is to react negatively with your tan! (Skin care
- Not moisturizing
Shame on you! There, now that that’s out of my system: if you aren’t moisturizing on the days following your spray tan appointment then you are setting yourself up for failure. Moisturizing ensures that your skin stays healthy, which means that your skin will turn over slower. See where I’m going here? The more you moisturize, the longer your tan will last. If that’s not enough, moisturizing also will help keep your dry areas (like elbows or knees) from fading faster than the rest of your body. All in all, there really is no good reason to not moisturize after your spray tan!
- Ocean water/Chlorine/Excessive sweating
I’m pretty well a fish when it comes to pools and swimming in the ocean, but I’ll also be the first to tell you that the chlorine and salt really does a number on my skin. Likewise, working out dumps tons of salt onto your skin and can wreak havoc on a spray tan. The best way to combat this is to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! After you work out, after you go for a swim, or any other activity that gets salt, dirt, or grime on your body: rinse the chlorine or salt, or whatever it is that you got into, off of your body and then make sure to apply your favorite moisturizer so that your tan doesn’t suffer from your active lifestyle!