Rethinking the spray tan: These recent advancements make for a more natural glow

Woman body paint with airbrush in professional beauty salon
Woman body paint with airbrush in professional beauty salon Getty Images/iStockphoto

With summer finally here, so too is the time for that sultry tan.

If you want a golden glow — but not the skin damage that can be caused by tanning beds or the sun’s rays — a spray tan is a good option.

Spray tans don’t have the best reputation: They can be streaky, sticky and — God forbid — that “Jersey Shore” shade of orange. But the technology has come a long way in recent years.

There are several spray tan methods on the market these days. Essentially, they’re divided into either automatic booths or airbrush spray guns applied by another person.

Channa Clemens, who owns TanPerfekt in Overland Park, says that airbrush spray tanning can be a customized approach that works for most people.

“We keep a certain pressure of the spray on the individual we’re working on, so it’s even, it’s more contoured, and it’s more natural-looking,” Clemens says. “If you go to a booth, if you aren’t the right height and weight for the template they’ve set up for that booth, you could have streaks.”

The airbrush system can also be more comfortable for spray tan first-timers, because there’s less guesswork on the client’s part.

“You don’t have to do the chicken dance,” Clemens says. “We tell you how to stand, how to turn, what direction. We walk you through it.”

Spray tan salons use a variety of solutions to create the perfect faux glow.

At Recreating Rays in Olathe and Liberty, owner Shonna Dexter offers three different solution lines, each with a different intensity of color. The solutions can be mixed and matched to customize the color for each client.

A word of warning: Some solutions contain alcohol.

“If (clients) have really dry skin, we’re not going to use an alcohol-based solution. We’ll use something aloe-based,” Dexter says. “Aloe-based solutions are great, because aloe is great for our skin.”

The preferred solution base changes along with the seasons. An aloe-based solution is stickier and might be better suited in the winter, when the weather is dry. In the summer, when it’s humid and hot, an alcohol-based solution might be better since there’s already so much moisture in the air.

Another component to keep in mind? The strong smell, which has long been the stereotype of spray tanning.

Misty Jennings, owner of Salon Ado in the Plaza, says that a solution’s ingredients affect its smell.

“Our solution smells good because it’s based in brown sugar,” Jennings says.

Another ingredient to avoid, Jennings adds, is beta carotene — the ingredient that’s often the culprit for that unnatural orange look that’s often associated with spray tans.

Before a spray tan, it’s important to exfoliate and shave. And maybe most importantly, you also need to share any plans you have with the salon before booking. If you’re going on vacation and will be getting a massage, keep in mind that the oil can make your spray tan fade faster. If you’re tanning for your wedding, it might be helpful to do a test run a few weeks before the big day.

The hue you choose should be customized based on your destination and the season.

“If you’re tanning for a spring wedding and it’s May and you’re going to be here in Kansas City,” Dexter says, “you probably don’t want a tan as dark as if you’re going to the Dominican Republic in July.”