In spite of the fact that I grew up in sun-soaked Southern California, I am a ghost. I once got sunburnt on an airplane and now I have to wear sunblock for daytime flights. Naturally, a glow that is acquired by sunbathing isn't realistic. But as a result, I've always lusted after a gorgeous kissed-by-the-sun bronze. After a tangerine adjacent incident, I have come to realize that for a spray tan to look natural, it has to be done, and taken care of, well. There had to be a secret.
I decided to speak with two experts–Kristyn Pradas from Pradas Glow and Sophie Evans from St. Tropez–to figure out the secret to the flawless faux tan.
Pradas and Evans know what they’re talking about. Pradas was the exclusive spray tan artist for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and has a glowing celebrity clientele including Bella and Gigi Hadid. Evans’ client list, on the other hand, includes Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, and even Colin Firth and she’s been a fixture behind the scenes at fashion shows ranging from Chanel to Miami Swim Week, too.
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With these two experts, I decided to get to the bottom of everyone’s most common spray tan-related questions, and, to test these hypotheses, I even followed their advice at my own spray tan.
What should I do before my tan?
Make sure you schedule all other spa treatments for before your spray tan, including facials, massages, waxing, and mani/pedis. If you choose to shave, you should do so beforehand, though not immediately before. Pradas suggests shaving earlier in the day and rinsing with ice cold water, as that will close your pores, making sure the tan doesn’t get caught in there and appear as little brown dots. She also advises that you use new razor blades, to avoid having your tan fade unevenly.
Pradas and Evans agree that exfoliating prior to your tan is one of the most important ways to help your tan last and look its best. “The best advice for every client is to exfoliate your entire body the day/evening before or first thing in the morning if your treatment is later that evening,” Evans said. “You can exfoliate immediately before having a spray tan if the correct [oil-free] product is used.”
Remember not to wear anything on your skin for your tanning appointment. “Avoid wearing any perfume, creams, lotions, deodorant, and make-up to your spray tan appointment, a clean canvas is always best,” Pradas said.
What should I expect during my tan?
You should plan to strip down, at least mostly. “You can go commando absolutely and have no tan lines or if you want chic tan line like Saint Laurent’s 2017 campaign keep your tiny fashion garments on and ensure the underwear is non wonky!” Evans said. “Just be aware self-tan can stain silk and some dry clean only fabrics. A good spray tan tech will always offer you disposable underwear if you want to guarantee your precious smalls stay perfect.”
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The most important thing is that you feel comfortable in what you are wearing. Whether that’s a bikini, some underwear, or going fully commando, your tanning artist should support your choice.
There are a few important tidbits you should tell your spray tan expert. “You should always tell the person your prior experience with self-tanning and whether you have an event, what day the event is, if you have any skin conditions, rash, dry patches, sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, discoloration, and/or if there are certain areas that lighten quicker,” Pradas said.
According to Evans, it is also necessary to tell your artist if you are pregnant, in which case you should consult your doctor. If you get the go-ahead, have your artist do a patch test on your skin, as you may be more sensitive than usual. Additionally, let your artist know if you’re breast feeding, as they should then avoid the nipples.
Do I need to do anything special after my tan?
You need to be a bit careful after your spray tan, as the tan can take up to twelve hours to develop, depending on what kind of solution was used. “While your tan is developing you should completely avoid getting wet. This includes perspiring, swimming, showering and/or getting caught in the rain!” Pradas said. “You also want to avoid tight clothing, especially pants with inseams such as jeans and some leggings, as well as tight cuffed pants/sweatpants, etc.”
The amount of time you’ll need to wait before showering depends on what kind of spray tan you received. Traditional spray tans will need about eight to twelve hours to develop (it’s best to sleep in these and then shower in the morning), while certain express solutions will allow you to shower after one to three hours. There are also some clear spray tans where no shower is ever required, though your tan will stop developing after twelve hours.
If you are sleeping in your tan, be warned that your tan will appear darker than it actually is. But, when you rinse off the bronzer in the morning, you should have a milder color, plus a fully developed tan. “When you sleep your body temperature heats up and your pores open up allowing the tanning agent (DHA) to really get into the skin and work to its full potential,” Evans said.
While sleeping, it’s important to wear long, dark clothing so, should you sweat any of your tan off, it will go onto your pajamas and not your crisp white sheets. However, many tan marks will just rinse off with a little soap and water.
If you’re tanning in preparation for an event, Pradas and Evans recommend getting sprayed one to two days before the shindig. That way, the color can fully set in before the special day.
How long will my tan last?
Pradas and Evans both say it really depends, but basically anywhere from five to twelve days. Your face and hands will last an even shorter amount of time, since you’re (hopefully) washing them more frequently.
There are different products and strategies to help your tan last as long as possible. “Take lukewarm showers, nothing too hot, with a pH balanced body wash, pat dry when you get out,” Pradas said. “Keep skin hydrated on the outside as well as from the inside!”
It’s important to use body wash and body lotion recommended for post-spray tan care. Keeping your skin moisturized is key. Certain oils, like mineral oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil, will actually strip your tan, so be careful with what you put on your newly-tanned self. Pradas also recommends drinking lots of water, to keep your skin hydrated from the inside, as well. \
What is an organic fake tan?
Pradas said this is a false claim, since basically all tans include DHA (dihydroxyacetone), a color additive derived from sugar that turns dead skin cells brown. “There is no such thing as an organic spray tan. The process of turning sugar into DHA, which is what turns your skin brown, can no longer allow you to claim it organic,” Pradas said. “Most people are unaware of this, there is a lack of education and misinformation when it comes to self-tanners and self-tanning. The most important thing in formulating self-tanners, is that the source that the sugar comes from is non-GMO or organic, for example we mostly use beets in the self-tanning industry.”
Evans noted that the way a company chooses to extract its DHA plays a big role in how natural the tan’s ingredients are. “It is very common for solutions to use formaldehyde as a quicker way to extract the DHA from the sugar cane. Formaldehyde is a colorless flammable gas,” she said. “If you are using formaldehyde to extract your DHA then your DHA is certainly not derived naturally and organically!”
So, the spray tan’s source and method of extraction can (and should) be organic, but the spray tan itself probably won’t be. Pradas also says that the tan should be free from glycols and parabens. “It is also important for a spray tan to be hydrating so that it does not dry the skin which can appear as if the skin is cracking,” Pradas said. “So be sure your self-tanner has hyaluronic acid which binds moisture to the skin, as well as aloe, which hydrates and has healing properties.”
Will it make me look orange?
If it’s done poorly, yes! Think: that episode of Friends, aptly named “The One with Ross’s Tan.” But, Pradas reassured us, “With the right formula and spray tan expert, you will not look orange.”
It is important to do your research–go to a salon with good reviews, do not try to go too dark, and make sure you look into the artist and the formulas/products they use. If all goes well, you will come out looking more like a Hadid sister and less like a Cheeto.
And, what’s the price tag?
It varies depending on where you live and the salon you choose, and it gets even pricier if you choose to have the spray tan artist come to your home (which is an option at many places!). The artist’s expertise will also make the tan more or less expensive. Evans says that in New York, the price for a good tan ranges from $75 to $120, while Pradas noted that, in general, spray tans can range from $25 to $500.
So, with the guidance of these tanning goddesses, I tried out this advice at a spray tan Pradas was kind enough to offer. The results? I am ~glowing~. Her tan doesn't have a sour smell or a tinge of orange, and shaving and exfoliating beforehand allowed my skin to be a perfect canvas for my new subtle bronze. Her expert contouring "dance" gave me the appearance of abs that would have taken months at the gym to achieve (and we all know that wasn't going to happen). All in all, I look like I spent the weekend in St. Barth's when really I was holed up in New York watching Goop Lab.
Curious? You can try a spray tan for yourself with Pradas Glow (they have Pradas-trained experts nationwide) or St. Tropez at the new 57th Street Nordstrom. Sugared + Bronzed, also has locations in New York, California, and Pennsylvania.
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