How Airbrush Tanning Works

When I was a teenager, I loved going tanning.  With my brown hair and eyes, I look better with a tan.  I got a gorgeous tan each year too.  Then my grandma was diagnosed with skin cancer.  Then two more family members were diagnosed.  That stopped my tanning immediately.  Now I slather sunscreen all over me and my kids to protect us from skin cancer and from premature aging.  I still like to have a nice glow, so I like to get an airbrush tan.  Luckily, my husband does airbrushing, so he gives me my tans.  Some salons also do airbrush tanning, or you can buy a kit to use yourself at home.  If you're new to this type of tan, keep reading to find out how it works and some tips for better results.

Links in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I earn a small commission from sales.  

How Sunless Tanning Works

Sunless tanning solution contains the FDA approved dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA reacts with your dead skin cells on the surface of your skin to temporarily darken them.  The tanning solution does not stain your skin, so the tan can take up to 12 hours to develop.  Some salons add a bronzer to the solution so you are darker immediately, but this will wash off with your next shower.  DHA does not penetrate past the surface of your skin, so it considered safe for external use.  

Are There Any Risks?

There are, however, other risks associated with DHA and sunless tanning solutions.  Although the FDA has approved DHA for external use, it has not approved the solution for use around the eye area or mucous membranes.  The FDA also warns against inhaling the fumes from tanning solutions.  

Some people can get a rash from sunless tanning products, but it is hard to determine if the DHA or another ingredient caused the rash.  Do a patch test 24 hours before using the solution all over your body.  

How To Protect Yourself
Some airbrush tanning salons use booths that spray the solution all over your body. These get all over your body, including your eyes, lips, and other mucous membranes.  You also risk inhaling the fumes from the overspray.  

Sunless tanning does not protect your skin from harmful UV rays from the sun.  You need to wear a sunscreen when you go outside to protect your skin from damage and sunburn.  

Tips for a Streak Free Tan

Before you get an airbrush tan, it's very important to prep your skin.  

  • You should exfoliate with a sugar scrub just before tanning. This removes the dead skin cells, so your tan will last longer.  
  • Don't use a lotion before you tan because it can prevent the DHA from reaching your skin.
  • Let the tanning solution dry completely before getting dressed. You should be very careful around water because one drop of water can ruin your tan.
Have you ever gotten a spray tan?

Photo via stockimages /
Newsletter Signup