Millions of people have turned to spray tanning to get that beautiful, bronze, kissed-by-the sun look. Since modern research has determined that it is unsafe to lie out in the sun for extended lengths of time, spray tanning has become a very popular alternative. To help aid in your decision to tan or not to tan, let’s define what spray tanning is, what its benefits and disadvantages are, and some safety concerns. Let’s also review pricing and how to prepare for your tanning service.

What it is: Spray tanning is a sunless form of self-tanning where a fine mist is sprayed onto your body to produce an artificial suntan. The main active ingredient in the mist, which reacts to your skin on contact, is a chemical called DHA (dihydroxyacetone). In the 1920’s German scientist noted that when DHA was applied to the skin’s surface, it turned brown. Over the next 30 years research continued, and many physicians began treating vitiligo patients with DHA.

Application: The spray tan mist can be applied by different devices. For example, one application is in a booth. These specially-designed booths have several nozzles or jets that spray the entire body with the tanning solution. Another method is manually spraying the body with an airbrush gun. Finally, the last method is applying the spray tan by hand via a bottle.

Pros and Cons: Everyone has slightly different skin chemistry. You’ll really need to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. Many clients have found that tanning booths do not distribute color evenly, and sometimes even leave streaks. Tan in a bottle by using a spray, lotion or gel can also be time consuming and take longer to dry. Tanning with the use of a spray gun or airbrush by a technician seems to be the most accurate way to tan, because a technician applying the tan has more control over coverage and it dries fairly quickly. Most tans will last about seven days, so unfortunately, this isn’t a permanent solution.

Safety: Spray tanning is safe, but overexposure to DHA through inhalation can be harmful. Be careful and follow any recommended safety regarding frequency and application. The spa should offer nose plugs or mask to protect you during the service. Be prepared to allow your tan to set for 8-12 hours. During this time, showering, bathing or sweating should be avoided. Spray tans DO NOT protect against UVA and UVB rays, so don’t forget the sunscreen next time you are outside.

Price: The average price of a spray tan is between $30-50 or higher. Most locations offer packages of multiple tans to save you money–the single cost of a tan is usually cheaper in a package of three or six. Also, be sure to check for discounts and specials that could reduce the price significantly.

Dos and Don’ts: Complete all you’re shaving and waxing before your appointment. Depending on how your skin reacts to shaving or waxing, you may want to do this two days before your tan. Your tan will last longer if it has fresh skin to adhere to, so exfoliate your entire body with loofa sponges or salt; sugar scrubs are also great for shedding excess dead cells. Finally, make sure the body is free of any oils, moisturizers, deodorants, and makeup. If not removed, the tanning spray will sit on top of these products and be washed away during bathing.

Spray tanning is an excellent option for those special occasions when you need a splash of color. Beach vacations, weddings, proms or “just because” are perfect opportunity for sunless tanning. As always, do your research–I’m sure the perfect kissed-by-the-sun glow is right around the corner.