Information About Spray Tanning

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Spray tans create temporary bronzed skin without sun exposure.
Spray tans create temporary bronzed skin without sun exposure. (Image: shvili/iStock/Getty Images)

Lucky for your skin, a sun-kissed glow no longer requires exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Step into a spray-tanning booth, available in many salons across the country, to bronze your skin without exposing it to the harsh effects of UV rays. Before you acquire that beach-ready tan, understand how spray tanning works as well its benefits and potential risks to make sure your faux tan looks fabulous.

Spray Tanning Science

Spray-tanning salons use dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which is a color additive composed of a colorless sugar. When this additive interacts with the dead cells on your skin's surface, it stains those cells, resulting in a darker skin color.

The Spray Tanning Experience

The spray-tanning process is simple:

  • Undress and step into a spray-tanning booth, which is similar to a shower stall.
  • Stand still as the booth's machine sprays DHA onto your skin.
  • Avoid showering for at least 8 hours to let your bronze glow set.
  • Minimize shaving and exfoliating to lengthen the life of your spray tan.

Advantages of Sprays

The greatest advantage of spray tanning is that you avoid potential skin damage caused by the sun's harmful UV rays. Of course, this advantage applies only if you replace suntanning altogether with an indoor option like spray tanning.

Additionally, when compared to other sunless tanners -- think sticky or smelly creams -- spray tanning is a no-mess, no-fuss option.

Spray Tanning Concerns

Spray tanning isn't without its share of drawbacks:

  • DHA application -- While DHA is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for external application, it cannot be applied to the lips, eyes or any bodily surface convered by a mucous membrane. Spray tanning may also result in accidental inhalation or ingestion of DHA.
  • Short-term color -- Since the DHA attaches to dead skin cells, spray tans last about a week. Color fades as those dead skin cells shed.
  • Possible uneven application -- Spray-tanning machines may not apply the DHA evenly to your skin, resulting in streaking and uneven color application.

Spray vs. Airbrush

Spray tanning and airbrush tanning differ in how the color is applied to your skin. While both methods use the color additive DHA, an airbrush tan is applied to your skin by a trained technician using a spray compressor, not by a machine alone.

As a result, airbrush tanning can result in a more even tan. Additionally, the technician will cover your eyes, lips and mucous membranes, thereby reducing your risk of DHA inhalation or ingestion.

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