How To Keep From F-ing Up Your Spray Tan

So you have a big event coming up—maybe it’s a wedding, and you want to show off a polished, full-body, bronze glow to trick your distant cousins into thinking that you have your life together (by virtue of the fact that your skin is perfectly sunkissed). So, you book yourself a spray tan, a seemingly foolproof way to achieve an airbrushed tan without the skin-damaging effects of actually frying under the sun. What starts as a well-intentioned trip to the salon, can turn into a streaky, orange-y mess very quickly, sending you into a whirlwind of regret and frantic exfoliation to repair the damage.

The embarrassing side-effects of a bad spray tan (aka this girl), might make you hesitate to book an appointment. Admittedly, it's a sensitive process that involves some prep and delicate post-spray care. But when you get it right — the result is a subtle, skin radiance that has you feeling yourself.

To get the full scoop on what to do (and what not to do) when spray tanning, we chatted with St. Tropez's skin-finishing expert, Sophie Evans. She gave us all the tips and tricks to get a flawless spray tan every time — so you can flaunt a streak-free glow, no blotchy ankles allowed.

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Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Prep Your Skin

Evans tells us that the prep before the spray is very important. The better condition your skin is in, the better the tan is going to come out. Evans' advice — come in with no self-tanner on your body. She explains: "If you take off all your self-tanner before you come in, it means we can do a nice, fresh coat and your spray tan is more likely to come out perfect."

In the same vein, exfoliation pre-tan is important. Eight hours before is the recommendation, because that's the time it take for your skin to neutralize. Evans tells us that a spray tan will look better when your skin is in a neutral mode, which usually happens about eight hours after you've washed it.

In terms of shaving and waxing — do not wax 24 hours before a spray tan. If you put a spray tan on top of freshly waxed skin, it will go straight into your pores, causing strange-looking dark dots. Shaving, on the other hand, is not a major problem, because it's actually a form of exfoliation. In fact, Evans explained that shaving after your tan, might actually give you a better finish. She says: "My legs look better if I get a spray tan on stubble-y legs, and then I shave them, but everyone is different."
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Go In For A Trial-Run Before A Big Event

If you want to be 100% sure that you're going to be happy with your color, you should schedule a pre-spray tan patch test. That way you can actually see what shade your skin will go when you actually get the full-body spray down. Evans tells us: "With brides, we always do a trial run, so we know how they develop, and if we need to go darker or lighter — then, if need be, we can adapt and mix solutions to get the desired shade." In the art of spray tanning, and most things in life, practice makes perfect.
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Talk To Your Technician

"One important suggestion for when you go into a spray tan — always give your spray tan technician some information about your skin, because everyone's skin is different," Evans tells us. The pH balance of your skin is what will affect the way that the tan develops. "You could be really dark, and not get much color from a spray tan because your pH balance may be low," Evans explains. "Always give your technician some information about your skin type and how you typically develop when using self-tanner, because it makes it easier for him or her to chose the correct formula for you."
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Be Thoughtful With Your Tanning Solution

St. Tropez, as with most spray tanning salons, offers many different tanning options. Evans likens the different solutions to the natural tan you might get on vacations varying in duration: "We have a darker solution, which is like two weeks vacation, then we have a lighter solution which is like a week's vacation," she says.

Also, it's important to consider your schedule and your level of desired maintenance when choosing your solution. Evans explains that there are express solutions, where you can shower a few hours after the spray, but the color won't last as long as a traditional spray tan. Then there's a classic solution, where you won't see the color start to develop until eight hours post-spray, but the tan will last up to ten days with the correct after-care. Evans tells us that St. Tropez also does a luxury dry oil, it's very hydrating so it can last up to two weeks.

Really, it just depends on your spray-tan goals — and how much you want to spend.
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Wear Loose Clothing Post-Tan

The biggest mistake spray tan rookies often make — putting on tight clothing right after they get sprayed. Evans tells us that her biggest piece of tanning advice is to avoid clingy clothes post-tan. "Always wear loose clothing — and don't put on socks or sneakers or you'll run the risk of splotchy ankles," she says. "Anything that's tight like socks, or a bra, that sticks and rubs, might give you a dark tan line." So always pack your baggy sweats and flip flops to throw on after your tan — who says you can't take caution in comfort?
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Avoid Sweat And Chlorine

It's important to avoid the gym and pool if you want to keep your tan at its max darkness. "Sweat and chlorine will take your spray tan off quickly," Evans admits. But if you can't forgo your workout, there are still options to keep your spray tan intact. Evans advises: "If you go to the gym or you go swimming, you should apply a gradual tanner after you get out of the shower to maintain the tan as best you can."
Illustration by Louisa Cannell
Use A Gradual Self-Tanner On Your Face

After a spray tan the face and hands will lose color the quickest. It makes sense as the pores of your face and hands are constantly opening and closing, so it's unavoidable. Evans advises buying a facial self-tanner and moisturizing your face and hands liberally every day following your spray — that way your tan will last and will fade evenly.
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