With the sun’s damaging UV rays and tanning beds falling out of favour, spray tanning has emerged as the go-to choice for that sought-after summery glow. But the key to a flawless result isn’t just in the application—it’s about how to prepare for a spray tan. This comprehensive guide explores every step you should take before you step into the spray tan booth, ensuring you emerge bronzed and beautiful.

How to Prepare for a Spray Tan

Before you begin prepping for your spray tan, understand what it is and how to prepare for it. Unlike sun or bed tanning, spray tans use a mist to colour your skin tone, completely bypassing UV exposure. It’s a quick and safe way to achieve a sun-kissed look, but it does require some preparation to maximize its effectiveness.

Why & How Preparation for a Spray Tan Is a Key

Preparation is essential for several reasons:

  • Even Tan: Prepping your skin ensures the tanning solution is evenly absorbed. Exfoliation and moisturization make your skin a blank, smooth canvas.
  • Longevity: Pre-tanned prep helps ensure the tan lasts as long as possible, allowing the product to penetrate and hold onto your skin more effectively.
  • Safety: Proper prep can prevent reactions to the tanning spray. For instance, if your skin is irritated from recent shaving, it may be more sensitive to the tanning solution.
  • Comfort: A proper prep can make the tanning process more comfortable and efficient. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll likely be in and out of the salon in less time.

Knowing why prep is crucial can motivate even the most laid-back tanner to stick to a pre-appointment routine.

When to Start & How to Prepare for a Spray Tan

If you’re wondering how soon is too soon to start preparing, the sweet spot is about two to three days before your appointment. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should be doing during this time:

  • Two Days Out: Start exfoliating every other day.
  • One Day Before: Refrain from skin treatments, save for gentle exfoliation and moisturizing.
  • Day of the Tan: Shower, and avoid wearing makeup, lotions, or perfumes, anything that might prevent the tan from developing well.

Keeping to this timeline gives your skin the perfect environment for a lasting and lovely glow.

Pre-Tan Checklist

Pre-Tan Checklist

Here’s the detailed rundown of what and how to prepare for a spray tan should look like:

1. Exfoliation

Effective exfoliation is the first and most crucial step to a perfect tan. This process sloughs off dead skin cells, smoothing your skin and allowing the tanning solution to sink in evenly.

  • Choose the Right Product: A gentle exfoliant that won’t irritate your skin is key. Look for products designed specifically for sensitive skin or those that contain natural exfoliators like sugar or ground oats.
  • Technique Matters: Use circular motions with a washcloth or exfoliating gloves to work the product into your skin, focusing on drier areas like your knees and elbows.

2. Shaving

Generally, shaving at least 24 hours before your spray tan is best. Shaving removes a layer of skin, creating a poor base for tan absorption.

  • Prevent Ingrown Hairs: Use a moisturizing shave gel or cream, and always shave in the direction of hair growth to avoid irritation and ingrown hairs.

3. Washing

On the day of your tan, start with a clean slate. A mild, non-moisturizing body wash is all you need – anything moisturising can create a barrier to the tanning solution.

  • Skip the Extras: Avoid using shower poofs or rough sponges on the day of your tan, as they can still irritate the skin you’ve carefully prepared.

4. Moisturizing

While moisturizing dry areas is great, too much can be a problem. Stick to a light, oil-free moisturizer after your shower, especially in common tanning trouble spots.

  • Where to Moisturize: Ankles, knees, elbows, and hands are the prime target areas. Apply the moisturizer sparingly, and to clean, dry skin.

What to Wear (And Not Wear) to a Spray Tan

Of course, the day of your spray tan requires some planning in terms of attire. You’ll want to:

  • Wear Loose, Dark Clothing: Loose clothes can help prevent your tan from getting smudged, and dark clothing can hide any solution that may rub off.
  • Avoid Certain Materials: Clothing made of elastic or tight-fitting materials is out, as they can rub against your skin and disturb the tanning solution.
  • No Undergarments: While some may feel more comfortable covered, undergarments can obscure the tan’s coverage and leave weird tan lines.

Understanding the Development Process

The waiting game begins after your tan is applied. The standard developing time is usually around 8 hours, but there are a few key factors that can speed up or slow down the process:

  • DHA Concentration: Higher levels of DHA, the active ingredient in tanning solution, usually mean a quicker development time.
  • Skin Type: For those with dry skin, the tan can develop more quickly. However, more oily skin may need a little longer.
  • Your Post-Tan Care: Rushing off to the shower or sweating profusely can interrupt the development process.

Post-Tan Care: Dos and Don’ts

After your tan, how you treat your skin in the first hours and days is critical. Here are some essential do’s and don’t’s:


  • Wait 8-12 Hours to Shower: The longer you can wait to shower, the better. The initial shower should be quick and with lukewarm water. Skip the soap and only sparingly use a gentle body wash if necessary.
  • Keep Moisturizing: After showering, keep your skin hydrated in the coming days. Moisturized skin maintains a tan longer and more evenly.
  • Pat, Don’t Rub, Dry: After your shower, gently pat your skin dry with a towel to avoid rubbing off the tan prematurely.


  • No Vigorous Exercise: Exercise that promotes heavy sweating can damage your tan. Opt for lighter, less sweat-inducing activities.
  • Avoid Long Baths: While a quick rinse is one thing, soaking in the bath is a quick way to strip your tan.
  • Skip Chlorine Pools or Saltwater: The chemicals in pools and salt water can fade a tan prematurely.


Effective preparation is the backbone of a beautiful, long-lasting spray tan. By following the steps in this guide to preparing for a spray tan, you ensure that your investment in a sunless tan pays off. Remember, it’s not just about what you should do but also about considering what not to do that makes all the difference. Your diligence in preparing will not only maintain the integrity of the tan but can also extend its life. Happy tanning!