Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Self-Tan

POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

The first time I got a spray tan was two weeks ago, right before a short weekend vacation to visit my boyfriend's family. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a faux-tan novice. I consider myself well-versed when it comes to at-home self-tanner and have tried everything from body lotions to mousses, water sprays, and face drops — I've just never gone to a professional. So, when I got the invite to visit celebrity spray tan artist Alexandra DiMarchi for a quick session before heading into the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.

But soon after the initial onset of excitement passed, I realized I had no idea what to expect. After all, it was my first spray tan. I texted my friend, who also happens to be a beauty editor, and she gave me the run-down of everything I needed to know. That, coupled with a few tips from DiMarchi and St. Tropez's skin finishing expert Sophie Evans, helped my first spray tanning session from being a total disaster.

If you're considering getting a spray tan or have your first appointment coming up, here's everything you need to know.

Before a Spray Tan
POPSUGAR Photography | Eric Helgas

Before a Spray Tan

Moisturize Days Ahead of Your Spray Tan

There's a bit of prep work involved with spray tans. In the days leading up to your appointment, be sure to keep your skin moisturized. "If your skin is extremely dry, try exfoliating and moisturizing every day for about three to four days before your spray tan," said Evans. "The better condition your skin is in, the better the tan will look and last.

Shower the Day Before Your Spray Tan — or Earlier

While you want to exfoliate and moisturize leading up to your appointment, you don't want to shower the day of. DiMarchi explained that showering too close to your appointment disrupts your skin's natural pH balance and can cause the tan to not stick properly.

Perform Any Hair Removal Methods the Day Before Your Spray Tan

If you plan on waxing, do it at least 24 hours before your appointment. "Waxing can open up your hair pores, so allow the skin to settle after your wax so that your spray tan does not come out with a spotted pitted look," said Evans. And if you choose to shave, do it eight to 12 hours beforehand. Because shaving is a form of exfoliation, the same goes for body scrubs and exfoliators. "This will allow time for your skin to neutralize and be at its most natural pH. balance to ensure that the self-tan develops to its deepest and darkest full potential."

Day of Your Spray Tan
Getty | Image Source

Day of Your Spray Tan

Skip the Body Products Before Your Spray Tan

"Never apply any products like body moisturizers on the day of your spray tan," advised Evans. "Certain products left on the skin can affect how the self-tan develops." If you arrive to your appointment with makeup or deodorant on, just be sure to remove it with a cleansing or makeup wipe. You don't want to apply perfume right before or after your spray tan either, because the alcohol in the formula can cause the color to look splotchy.

Wear Loose Clothing to Your Spray Tan

You have to take extra care that your color develops properly after you leave your spray tan. This includes wearing loose shoes and clothing and forgoing undergarments, like bras. "This is to avoid any indents in your body," said DiMarchi. "With clear [tanning] solutions, this is not as crucial, but will help!"

Consider Your Spray Tan Options

There are two different types of spray tans: express tans and regular tans. "A spray tan with express formula — like St. Tropez 's Self Tan Remover Prep + Maintain Mousse ($19) — develops slightly quicker, but both spray tans usually last 7-10 days," said Evans.

Spray tans don't have to mean heavy color, emphasized DiMarchi. You can get a skin glowing treatment that acts like a blurring filter before a big event or vacation for a natural look. "Women of color can benefit from the products and services because they help to achieve a radiant glow that acts as a skin finish to even and enhance their natural complexion, she continued. And many self-tanning products are packed with skin-loving ingredients that can help moisturize your body, too.

Day of Your Spray Tan
POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio

Day of Your Spray Tan

Prepare to Strip Down For Your Spray Tan (to Your Comfort Level)

At your appointment, you'll be asked to get as naked as you want. Some people go completely bare to eliminate any tan lines, while others choose to leave on their underwear — it's a matter of personal preference. If you do plan on leaving any articles of clothing on, just make sure you don't mind if they can spray tan on them. (It typically washes off with detergent.)

How to Spray Tan Your Hands and Feet

Getting the perfect amount of natural-looking color on your hands and feet is tricky but not impossible. Less is more, said DiMarchi: "Moisturize your hands, focusing on your knuckles, around your cuticles, and your wrist. This will create a barrier to ensure product does not over-develop on dryer areas. The reason I really focus on the wrist area is because you want to make sure you have an even transition from your arm to your wrist so it isn't as noticeable that you have either applied self-tanner or received a spray tan."

To keep your nails from picking up the spray tan color, you can paint them or apply lotion as a barrier. "After applying the product, I like to use a makeup wipe to lightly wipe around my wrists, palms, and nails just to be sure that there isn't any extra product build-up. Then, I use a buffing mitt to blend any excess product on the skin."

One more key tip: don't touch your body with the palms for your hands while your color is developing — especially with water.

After Your Spray Tan
POPSUGAR Photography | Eric Helgas

After Your Spray Tan

Avoid Getting Wet Until You're Ready to Rinse Off Your Spray Tan

Most spray tans take a few hours to fully develop and when you rinse off affects the outcome of the color. The sooner you shower, the lighter it is, the longer you wait the darker the color, although the maximum amount of time you should wait is eight hours. Ask your tanning expert because the wait time depends on the formula.

During this time, it's super important not to get wet — this includes sweating at the gym. But, accidents happen. If you do get wet, there are ways to salvage the color. "If your tan has already been developing for a while you're probably safe, but if you have a fresh tan I would try to lightly pat the area (with a smooth cloth) and touch up with a self-tanner if possible," said DiMarchi. "Self-tanning waters — such as the Tan-Luxe The Water Hydrating Self-Tan Water ($47) — are the easiest products to use for this because you can lightly mist the area instead of rubbing on any extra product that could potentially mess up other areas of your tan."

When it is time to rinse off, don't just hop in the shower like you normally world. "Try to avoid showering with super hot water; lukewarm is much better," said DiMarchi. And skip on the soap, if you can. This will keep from too much of the color washing off in one go. "After showering, pat dry your skin with a towel instead of rubbing. Towels can act as a dry exfoliant and therefore cause your tan to fade more quickly."

Eliminate That Spray Tan Stickiness With Powder

Luckily, spray tan formulas have come a long way and most no longer leave you feeling sticky or gross. However, if you do feel any tackiness after application or have an event immediately after an express treatment you can use setting powder. "I apply setting powder and fixer spray after the spray tan, similar to how makeup artists use setting sprays and translucent powders," said Evans. Concentrate it on areas like your inner-elbows, underarms, and neck.

Change Your Skin-Care Products Temporarily

The pre- and post-care for spray tanning your face is the same as your body. If you're self-tanning at home, look for products formulated specifically for the face, like the Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops ($29).

If you spray tan your face, you'll need to sacrifice your skincare routine for a little while — or at least as long as you want the color to last. This means no topicals, chemical exfoliators, acne treatments, and so on. "Your face will fade quicker than the rest of your body due to skincare regimens, so I recommend using Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops ($49) to touch up your tan every other day if you're looking for that extra boost of color," said DiMarchi.

Getty | Florence Goupil

Moisturize Daily, but Skip Exfoliating

Your work isn't done when your color develops. The better you follow aftercare instructions, the better your tan will look for days to come. This includes showering with lukewarm water and using an oil-free moisturizer daily. DiMarchi advised, "If you want to prolong your tan, it would be best to hydrate often and to avoid exfoliating and brightening products to ensure an even fade."

The results of your spray tan will typically last about seven to 10 days — depending on how well you take care of it — but there are ways you can make it last longer. "Moisturize before you go to bed. When you sleep your pores open up and allow products to get into the skin and work to their ultimate best," said Evans. "Use a natural body butter or lotion daily, and then every two or three days, use a gradual tanner on the body." For your face, she recommends using the St Tropez's Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist ($30) every other day or the St Tropez's New Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Face Serum ($30).