I’ve always admired people who could rock a gorgeous, sun-kissed glow all year round. As someone with fair skin who prefers to avoid the risks of UV exposure, I relied on ineffective self-tanners that left me splotchy and orange. That was until I discovered professional spray tanning and the magic it works to give your skin a natural looking tan without the sun damage.
If you’re new to the world of spray tans, you likely have questions about the process. The most common one I hear is, “how long does a spray tan take to develop?” From solution types to proper prep, many factors impact how fast your sunless tan darkens. Read on for an in-depth look at spray tan developing times.
What Influences The Developing Process?
Many variables affect how quickly your spray tan solution darkens on the skin. Things like your natural skin tone, the specific products used, temperature and humidity, and your prep work all play a role. Here are some of the key factors:
Your Skin Type and Tone
Like with most skin care, what works for your BFF won’t necessarily work the same for you. Our unique body chemistry and natural skin properties influence results. For spray tans, these two factors matter most:
Oil Production – If you have oily or combination skin, the added sebum can slow down development time. The oils create a barrier that makes it take longer for DHA to fully react. Frequent moisturizing and exfoliation helps.
Skin Undertones – Cool, pink undertones develop faster than warm golden ones. The higher levels of melanin in warm tones lead to a slower reaction time. But the end result lasts longer!
Not all spray solutions are created equal! Higher quality professional formulas lead to better, faster results. Here’s what to look for:
- DHA – The active ingredient dihydroxyacetone is what reacts with amino acids in skin to tint it. Higher percentages like 10-15% speed up the process.
- Bronzers – Natural bronzing extracts provide instant color while DHA develops. These give an initial glow.
- Moisturizers – Hydrating ingredients like aloe vera help the solution absorb evenly for faster, smoother results.
- pH Balancers – Adjusting pH optimizes DHA reactivity. Levels between 5 and 6 are ideal.
For the magic of DHA to work, it needs moisture in the air. Humidity kickstarts the reaction that darkens skin, while dry climates slow it down. Air temp matters too – warmth accelerates development. If it’s cool and arid where you live, be patient!
Prep Work and Maintenance
What you do to your skin before and after a spray tan makes a huge difference in how quickly color develops. Proper exfoliation, shaving, and moisturizing allows for even application and faster absorption. Avoiding activities that remove skin cells in the first 8 hours is key too.
Now that you know what goes into the developing process, let’s get into the nitty gritty of spray tan developing times.
When Will You See Your Spray Tan Darken?
The short answer is 6-12 hours on average. But many factors can lengthen or shorten up this timeframe. Let’s break it down:
For Light and Medium Tans
If you prefer a subtle sun-kissed glow versus an ultra-dark bronzed look, expect your color to fully show in 6-8 hours. Here’s a timeline:
- 1 Hour – No visible color yet. Skin may look slightly shimmery from bronzers.
- 2-3 Hours – Slight tan tint visible, especially on hands and feet.
- 6-8 Hours – Light/medium tan fully developed.
Remember – even once your desired color shows, the reaction continues progressing up to 24 hours. So give your tan time to settle before showering!
For Dark or Extra Dark Tans
Do you love a dramatic dark tan? While the depth builds gradually, the initial color will be lighter. Be patient for 8-10 hours for full results.
- 1-2 Hours – Zero to minimal color visible yet.
- 4 Hours – Slight tan appearing but still light.
- 8-10 Hours – Deepest tan color visible.
Really antsy for dark bronze skin ASAP? Build up thin layers with multiple same day applications. Just allow each coat 5-6 hours to absorb before spraying again. This helps the DHA develop better.
For Quick Color Payoff
Some circumstances allow your color to show faster, including:
- Lighter shades – You’ll see even subtle sun-kissed colors in 1-2 hours.
- Higher humidity – Moisture in the air speeds up the reaction.
- Warmer temperatures – Heat accelerates DHA and bronzers.
- pH balancing sprays – These prep spritzes optimize skin for faster absorption.
- Thorough exfoliation – Sloughing off dead skin allows for quicker visible results.
- Higher DHA % – Professional solutions with 10%+ concentration work faster.
Pro Tip: Even if color shows up quickly, wait the full 8-10 hours before showering or submerging in water. This allows DHA to fully reach its potential.
Optimizing Your Pre-Tan Prep
You’ve likely heard how important it is to prep your skin before a spray tan. But why? Proper exfoliation, body hair removal, and moisture balancing allows for faster, more even application and development. Here are my pro tips:
Gently sloughing away any dry, dead skin is key for color to absorb quickly. Use a soft grain scrub on areas prone to dryness like elbows, knees and heels. Shave or wax first, then exfoliate.
For face prep, use a daily AHA/BHA exfoliant like lactic or glycolic acid. This dissolves the “glue” binding dead cells to reveal fresh new skin.
Remove Body Hair
Shaving or waxing the day before eliminates any stubble that could create unevenness during application. If you can’t remove hair, use a barrier cream to prevent absorption on hairy spots.
TIP: Avoid hair removal for 12 hours after your spray tan. Razors and waxes slough off color.
Apply Barrier Creams
For hands, feet, knees and elbows, apply a thin barrier cream before the spray tan. These areas absorb more product and develop darker. Barrier creams prevent this over-absorption for more even results.
Hydrated skin allows for faster DHA development and reduces dryness. Use an unscented moisturizer daily starting 3 days before your tan. Apply right after exfoliating for smooth absorption.
What To Expect During The Session
Wondering what a professional spray tan session is like? The technician will guide you through the process, offering tips for positioning during application. Here’s the gist of what to expect:
Spray Tan Methods
Two main application methods are used – airbrush tanning and handheld manual spray.
- Airbrush tans use an air compressor with fine misting output for precise, even coverage. The tech adjusts air pressure as needed.
- Manual spray tans involve the technician moving the spray nozzle smoothly back and forth to layer solution evenly across your body.
Both methods work great when done properly! Discuss your preferences with your tech.
Positions During Application
To achieve flawless, natural looking results, proper positioning is key. Be prepared to:
- Stand with feet hip width apart, arms slightly away from body.
- Bend slightly forward at hips during backside spraying.
- Lift arms up to avoid creases and uneven lines on sides.
- Tilt chin down with head angled up to prevent facial drips.
- Follow any additional guidance from your tech! Doing whatever they advise will lead to the best results.
Let your provider know if you feel uncomfortable holding any position for long. Fair warning – it takes 10-15 minutes per coat, so stamina is helpful!
Caring For Your Color After The Session
You’ve put up with the awkward standing, strange smells, and hour long development time. Now you have the gorgeous glow you wanted – but how long will it last? Post-tan care is crucial for preserving your new bronzed hue.
Here are my top tips for making a spray tan last 7-10 days or longer:
Moisturize Right After Your Session
Once your technician says you’re good to go, apply moisturizer immediately. This hydrates skin and locks in color. Focus on dry areas like hands, knees and elbows.
Avoid Chlorine and Saltwater
Soaking in chlorinated pools or saltwater can strip your tan quickly. If possible, skip the beach and pool for the first 3 days. When you do swim, rinse off after to remove drying chemicals.
Wear Loose Clothing
Tight fabrics can rub off color, especially right after your session before the DHA fully sets. Go for loose cottons and linens. Darker hues also hide any potential transfer.
Skip the Gym For 8-12 Hours
Working out leads to sweat, friction, and dehydration – all things that fade a fresh tan. Give your color time to fully set before any strenuous exercise.
Shower Gently With Cooler Water
Harsh scrubbing and steamy showers shorten your tan’s lifespan. Use tepid water and your hands to gently cleanse. Apply moisturizer immediately after to combat dryness.
Exfoliate and Re-apply Every 5-7 Days
To keep your glow going strong, exfoliate then follow up with a spray tan refresh every 5-7 days. This removes dead skin without stripping all color.
How exactly does spray tanning work?
The active ingredient DHA reacts with amino acids in the top layer of skin to produce color. Specific spray solutions use different percentages and combinations of DHA, bronzers, moisturizers, etc to optimize the results.
Is spray tanning safe?
Yes! The FDA deems DHA safe for external use. Some people may be allergic and have reactions. Do a patch test before full application. Avoid inhaling or ingesting solution. Wear protective gear when spray tanning.
How should I prep my skin for the best spray tan results?
- Exfoliate thoroughly the day before
- Remove any body hair
- Apply barrier cream to dry areas
- Moisturize skin starting 3 days out
- Don’t apply lotion or makeup right before your session
What do I wear during the spray tan session?
Wear whichever swimsuit or undergarments you feel comfortable in. Acrylics can be stained. Many salons provide disposable underwear. Loose dark clothing is ideal for after.
What’s the proper spray tan developing time before I can shower or exercise?
Wait 8-10 hours minimum before submerging in water or sweating. Let your color fully settle before rinsing or working out to prevent streaking and patchiness.
How can I make my spray tan last as long as possible?
Moisturize daily, avoid chlorine and saltwater, wear loose clothes, exfoliate and reapply every 5-7 days. Pat dry instead of rubbing after showers. Limit sun exposure.
Can I spray tan if I’m pregnant?
Yes! DHA is considered low risk for use during pregnancy. Discuss any concerns with your doctor first. Opt for “pregnancy safe” formulas just to be extra careful.
Will spray tanning damage my lash extensions?
It shouldn’t affect properly applied extensions. Protect eyes during the session. Avoid wetting lashes for 8 hours after to allow DHA to set. Ask your lash tech for guidance.
Can I still shave and wear makeup after a spray tan?
Wait at least 12 hours before shaving to allow color to fully set. Use a clean, new razor each time. For makeup, mineral powders and oil-free types are best over a tan. Avoid makeup for 8-12 hours after tanning.
When can I workout after a spray tan session?
Avoid sweating for at least 8 hours. Change out of tight clothing immediately after working out to prevent streaking. Rinse skin to remove sweat but pat dry instead of rubbing.
How long does the spray tanning session take?
10-15 minutes per coat depending on your size. Arrive 15 minutes before your appointment. Most people require 2-3 coats total, so expect to be there 45 minutes to an hour.
Get Your Glow On!
I hope this complete guide answered all your questions about “how long does a spray tan take to develop”. The waiting period flies by when you follow proper preparation and aftercare steps. Before you know it, you’ll be rocking ridiculously realistic looking bronzed skin all year long like a sun goddess!