What is Spray Tanning?

M.C. Huguelet

Spray tanning is a cosmetic procedure in which a substance called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is misted onto the skin’s surface, producing a chemical reaction which temporarily creates the appearance of a suntan. This substance can be applied at home or in a salon. If used properly, it can produce a natural-looking tan. As spray tanning requires no harmful sun exposure, it is generally considered much safer than traditional tanning methods. It should be noted, however, that some methods of spray tan application may cause harm to the eyes and mucous membranes, and that certain individuals may experience an allergic reaction to spray tan chemicals.

Spray tanning can be safer than tanning beds.
Spray tanning can be safer than tanning beds.

Upon application, DHA — the active ingredient in most spray tanning solutions — produces a chemical reaction which causes the dead cells in the outermost layer of the skin to turn brown, or “tan.” This darkening usually becomes noticeable approximately one hour after the tanning spray has been applied. As the body sheds this layer of dead skin over the next four to ten days, the tan gradually fades away.

Spray tanner can be applied in the privacy of the user's home to promote a healthy glow.
Spray tanner can be applied in the privacy of the user's home to promote a healthy glow.

A spray tan can be applied at home or at a salon. Home-use sprays, usually sold in pump or aerosol bottles, tend to be budget-friendly and also give the user the freedom of reapplying the product as desired to achieve her preferred shade. If improperly applied, however, they may result in an uneven tan, or may leave brown streaks on the palms, neck, and elbows.

There are two primary methods of professional spray tanning: airbrushing and booth tanning. An airbrush tan is applied by a tanning professional using a spray gun. In booth tanning, individuals stand in a compartment which has been fitted with tan-dispersing atomizers. These atomizers spray a mist of tanning solution over all exposed skin. While professional spray tanning generally yields a more natural-looking tan than home-use products, it can be costly.

As spray tanning requires no harmful UV exposure, it has been heralded as a safe alternative to traditional tanning. It should be noted, however, that while the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of DHA on the skin’s surface, its potential effects on the eyes and mucous membranes have not yet been documented. Until DHA is better understood, users should take care to protect these areas from exposure to the chemical.

Finally, spray tanning products may cause an allergic reaction in some. These users report rashes and skin irritation following product exposure. To prevent a potential allergic reaction, it is recommended that those trying a new spray tanning product first apply the solution to a small patch of skin. If no allergic reaction occurs after 24 hours, the user can then apply the product to the rest of her skin.

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Discussion Comments


@talentryto- Thanks for the tip. I think that many people forget to wash their hands when using spray tanning solutions, and are not happy when their hands turn orange! The bad part about it is that that color usually lasts several days, giving away your mistake to anyone who notices.


If you are new to using a spray tanning product at home, the first thing that you will want to remember to do after you apply it is wash your hands. If you don't, the palms of your hands will turn an unnatural orange-brown color that will be sure to give away the fact that you are sporting a spray tan and not your own natural glow.

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