Self-tanning is easy. Pretty much anyone can put on lotion, apply mousse, or swipe a towelette around their body. But for flawless results on every inch of skin, spray tanning is the way to go. A spray tan lasts longer, too.
So, what’s the difference between an airbrush tan versus a spray tan? Is airbrush tanning better? Can you do spray tanning at home? These are some of the questions we’ll answer today.
What is airbrush tanning?
Let’s begin with an explanation of airbrush tanning. It sounds like you’d use a special kind of brush, right? In reality, it’s the spray propelled by air that brushes across your skin. In essence, it’s the same as spray tanning as both are applied by some kind of propellant, whether it comes from a can or machine.
Celebrities and those in the know get professionally-applied airbrush tans. The techs understand which airbrush tanning solution is the best match for each person’s skin tone. Then, they spray each part of the body to achieve a natural-looking bronze. They avoid overdoing it on parts that can turn extra dark like knees and elbows. And they can treat specific areas to camouflage spider veins and cellulite.
The spray techs use equipment like the kit below.
Norvell Sunless Kit – M1000 Mobile HVLP Spray Tan Airbrush Machine + 8 oz Tanning Solutions in Ultra Vivid ‘Cosmo Light’, Venetian and Dark + Norvell Training Program
Norvell is considered the number one professional spray tanning brand in the USA. But you don’t need any special license to purchase this kit for home use. It comes with an educational module to train you to be a spray tech and start your own business. (Of course, then you might need to get a license to operate professionally).
This isn’t a complete setup as it doesn’t come with a pop-up tent or disposable protections like nose plugs or slippers. On the other hand, it features professional equipment like an HVLP sprayer plus a selection of Norvell’s airbrush tanning solutions.
An HVLP sprayer is a high-volume low-pressure airbrush machine. It emits a fine mist for seamless coverage across the skin. It doesn’t heat the spray, so wintertime sessions can be a little chilly. But the spray doesn’t sting – it’s a gentle mist.
The machine is a little noisy but straightforward to use. It comes with an air hose, a spray gun, and other accessories. Until you get used to using it, it’s a really good idea to practice outdoors or with a spray tent to prevent making a mess with overspray. Thankfully, the spray gun is designed to focus the application so it’s not hard to do arms and legs.
As for the tanning solution, it’s free of parabens, sulfates, artificial fragrances, petrochemicals, and other nasty things. Instead, it’s enhanced with antioxidants to help the skin stay young and healthy. And yes, it has a pleasant scent that pretty much eliminates the self-tanning odor.
The active ingredient is DHA. It interacts with amino acids in the skin to brown it. It’s kind of like when you slice an apple or cook bacon. It’s cleared by the FDA for sunless tanning purposes.
Airbrush tanning is safe for most people, but not recommended for pregnant women or those with very sensitive skin. Norvell also suggests protecting the eyes, nostrils, and lips from contact with the spray.
Why might you decide to purchase an airbrush tanning kit like this one? Well, it will pay for itself after a few sessions. In some cities, a spray tan appointment can cost as much as fifty dollars.
Are there any cons to airbrush tanning? There are a couple. First, it’s very difficult to airbrush tan yourself – it really helps to have someone else do it. Second, the equipment requires cleaning every time it’s used.
So, now you see how it’s possible to get an airbrush tan in the privacy of your home, although people may also go to a salon. At the salon, they can also opt for a spray tan.
What is spray tanning?
Yes, we just explained that spray tanning and airbrush tanning is virtually the same thing. But let’s look at spray tanning in the context of booths.
Think about a car wash. There’s a kind where you hand over your car and someone details it for you. That’s like an airbrush tan with a spray tech. Then, there’s the kind where you drive your car through and a machine cleans the car for you. That’s like a spray tan booth.
Instead of exposing yourself to a spray tech, you can choose to use a booth. It’s preprogrammed with the correct mix of colors. All you have to do is stand there and follow the automated instructions. The booth will tell you when to lift your arms and so forth. The spray comes out of nozzles so it’s kind of like a shower. In the end, however, it’s up to you to make sure you don’t accidentally spray the palms of your hands or other areas you don’t want tanned.
Is it better to get a spray tan or an airbrush tan?
To be truthful, we prefer airbrush tans applied by professionals. That way we get perfect results and we don’t have to do any cleanup.
On the other hand, it’s cheaper to get a spray tan in a booth. As long as you’re careful to follow the instructions, it should be a successful experience.
But let’s be real. Not everyone has a budget that allows for either of these treatments. So, what type of spray tanning can you do at home?
We suggest starting with something simple and inexpensive like the self-tanning mist below.
L’Oreal Paris Skincare Sublime Bronze Self Tanning Mist
L’Oreal hits it out of the park with their Sublime Bronze lineup. It includes mist, serums mousse, lotion, and towelettes. There’s literally something to tan everyone in every way possible. Furthermore, you can choose from light to medium or medium to deep colors. It’s all easy to use, pleasant-smelling, and offers beautiful results.
The can of mist lasts for a few applications. It’s like giving yourself a spray tan that develops in a couple of hours. The nozzle even has an angled applicator to help reach the back of your body.
The official instructions say that you can spray it on and let it dry. In real life, regular users say to work in small sections and rub the liquid quickly with a gloved hand. This prevents streaking if you happen to overlap the spray.
How do you self-tan?
Regardless of whether you’ll be getting a spray tan or sunless tanning at home, the same rules apply. Preparation is the key to enjoying a flawless tan. Here are four tips for the perfect bronze.
The first rule is to exfoliate (and depilate) all the skin you plan to treat. You can hurry and scrub down in the shower on the day you’ll tan. But things will turn out better if you’ve made it a regular practice to exfoliate at least weekly.
The second rule is to moisturize, but not right before tanning. You want your skin to be in top condition so that the tan lasts as long as possible. An airbrush tan can last up to ten days. After the first five days to a week, however, it will start to fade as the skin exfoliates naturally.
The third rule is to avoid lotion, moisturizer, deodorant, and perfume before tanning. You don’t want anything on your clean, dry skin when you spray it.
Fourth, don’t get wet after tanning. Try not to sweat or swim or shower for as long as the instructions say you have to wait. This may be as quick as an hour or as long as eight hours. Don’t even dress until your skin is completely dry.
Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray
If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, try this self-tanner from a dermatologist-recommended brand. Neutrogena’s spray tan is oil-free and super easy to apply. It dries in five minutes or less and doesn’t necessarily require rubbing to distribute the spray.
Repeat buyers say to spray less than you think you need because the color is buildable. You only need to mist it instead of coating your body.
The deepest color develops overnight, although you may notice a sun-kissed glow after just a couple of hours.
On the bright side, the formula is less drying to the skin than some options. On the downside, it contains parabens.
Do all airbrush tans have instant bronzer?
Instant or cosmetic bronzer is a common ingredient in spray tan solution. It doesn’t matter if it’s a retail product in a can or a professional formula for a spray machine. It provides an instant bronze, plus it also serves as a guide to see where the spray tan has been applied.
Some people love the instant bronzer because they immediately look tan. It buys time for the self-tanning ingredients to darken their skin before they shower and wash off the bronzer.
Others hate it because it rubs off on clothes, towels, and sheets. If you don’t want bronzer in your spray tan, check the label. If the ingredients list caramel or FD&C colors, chances are it won’t be transparent.
Banana Boat Self Tanning Spray
What’s the cheapest way to spray tan? Try Banana Boat’s tan in a can. It even sprays upside down.
One application can give you a bronze that lasts for a week. What’s also nice is that it eliminates pretty much all of the self-tanning smell from the DHA darkening the skin.
But be aware that it has caramel, an instant bronzer that could rub off on your clothes if you dress before your skin has dried or if you sweat a lot.
Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tanning Liquid Spray
Fake Bake says that the color from its tanning solution looks more natural and endures for longer than competing brands. What’s the secret? It contains DHA, DMI, and erythrulose. These ingredients darken the skin at slightly different speeds with slightly different effects. Furthermore, it works great on all skin tones without turning orange.
The liquid spray isn’t sticky or oily. It smells tropical and dries very quickly. After only four hours, you’ll see a noticeable difference in skin color. Leave it on overnight and the bronze goes deeper. Just don’t get wet for the first few hours so that it doesn’t fade unevenly or streak.
Happily, this formula has no parabens or formaldehyde releasers.
Besides airbrush and spray tanning, how else can you fake bake?
If you’re not comfortable spraying on a tan, no worries. The absolute easiest way we’ve found to self-tan is to use towelettes. It’s like swiping a baby wipe across your body. It’s super easy and not messy at all. Just be sure to wash your hands once you’ve finished.
L’Oreal Paris Skincare Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelettes
L’Oreal’s tanning towelettes have a fresh scent that cancels out most of the sunless tanning odor. Your skin will probably still smell a little odd a few hours after you use them. That’s the DHA working. (To be honest, we kind of like the smell as it makes us think of summer).
They have no bronzer so there’s no way to tell where you’ve applied the solution. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about staining anything.
There are two methods to using them: in long passes or with circular motions. We’ve tried both and haven’t noticed any streaking or uneven results. Everything seems to turn out fine.
Do be careful about wiping elbows, knees, ankles, knuckles, and any dry patches of skin. Save those for last to deposit the least amount of solution on them. That way they don’t darken too much. You can also cheat by applying lotion only to those areas and letting it dry before using the towelette.
If you want to look like you’ve been on vacation, sunless tanning is the safest way to get a bronze. It can develop a tan much faster than laying out in the sun. It can also look more perfect than results from a tanning bed without the risk of sunburn or skin cancer.
We hope we answered your questions about airbrush tanning and spray tanning today. Go give it a try – you’re bound to enjoy it!