What to Know Before You Spray-Tan

Want a bronze look this summer without the harmful effects of tanning beds and outdoor UV rays? Then a spray-tan is the way to go. But before you head to a salon, it's important to know what to expect (and avoid!)

We got all the facts - pros, cons, tips, and embarrassing confessions - from one spray-tan artist who's seen it all. Here's what she's learned.

Spray-Tan vs. Tanning Booth
Unlike tanning booths, which offer some degree of anonymity, there's no room for modesty here. Everything's done by hand, so I have to be all up in people's business.
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Grin and Bare It

Since I see clients when they're most vulnerable (in a paper thong and under bright lights with all their wobbly bits showing), I'm as much a shrink as a spray tanner.

Women love to know how they stack up: "Do I have more cellulite than every one else? Am I hairier than the average chick?" Sometimes, the degree of self-loathing saddens me. I have some clients who keep their pants on and only get their upper bodies sprayed because they can't bear to show their legs. I tell them that it's foolish to compare yourself to an ideal that doesn't exist.
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Subtle Ways to Minimize Flaws
I can put a tiny triangle above the breasts to create cleavage, shade a bit of darkness under the butt for extra lift, or conceal cellulite by using a slightly warmer color on the backs of the thighs. It's all about subtlety. But the requests have gotten more specific and outlandish. They want amazing definition sprayed onto their muffin tops. I attempt to persuade them to be more realistic. My average client is a normal, pear-shaped woman with thighs and a butt. If I were to paint a six-pack on her, it would look ridiculous!
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Less Is More
As sunless tanning grows in popularity, I see more fake-tanorexics. They've lost their grasp on what looks natural. To them, the darker the better. Let me tell you, it's scary. No matter what your skin tone, you should never go more than two shades deeper. A spray tan only lasts about five days, and if you're too dark, you'll look like you have dirty, marbled skin when the color starts to fade.
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The Messy Side

Though we've worked out a lot of kinks, spray tanning still comes with some sticky consequences. Anyone (and anything) you rub against for eight hours will get streaked with tanner.
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Man Tans
Men make up about 30 percent of my clientele. Most of them are straight guys who got dragged along for their girlfriend's appointment and start coming back for their own work. They always want to go superlight, so no one (especially women) will be able to tell.
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How to Get a "Natural" Spray Tan
Ready to go for the glow? Heed our insider's tips.

  • SEEK OUT A SPECIALIST. Many nail salons offer spray tans, but stick to a place that's got an extensive sunless-tanning menu.
  • EXFOLIATE - GENTLY. So many women scrub until their skin turns red. Exfoliate pre-tan only if you're really dry.
  • SKIP DEODORANTS AND PERFUMES. They can prevent the tanner from penetrating and might stain the skin.
  • SHAVE BEFOREHAND. Defuzzing after will shorten the tan's life span by two days.
  • WEAR LOOSE CLOTHES. Anything tight, like denim, will suck the tanner right off.
  • STAY DRY. Once you're sprayed, wait eight hours before you hit the shower.
  • SOCK IT. Wear socks on your hands while sleeping the first night. This prevents handprints on random body parts.
  • SOAK IT OFF. When the tan starts to fade, take a bath. Then buff yourself with a towel. The flakes will fall off.
Have you had a spray-tan? Would you recommend it?

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.