Alternative tan effectiveness: what is airbrush tanning?

A professional tan, with sunless tanner airbrushed on.

As awareness grows over the risks of skin damage caused by overexposure to the sun, more and more people are turning to tanning alternatives such as self-tanning lotions, sprays and foams to impart their bodies with a just-back-from-Barbados bronze.

But even the most sun-wary in search of a faux glow risks ending up streaked, striped, or with tell-tale orange palms. Now there’s a solution for those who would like a little assistance with sun-free tanning – simply visit a salon or spa and have a tan, well, sprayed on.

Airbrush tanning is the newest procedure available to transform pale into pow – its an instant tan without the mess and cleanup at home. Offered by trained technicians who use a hand-held sprayer to paint your body with a fine mist that dries almost immediately, an airbrush tan lasts as long as any at-home self-tanner, approximately 7-10 days. The life of your tan depends on your skin’s natural exfoliation process; keeping skin well moisturized will prolong your professional tan.

The reason is a chemical called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which reacts with the amino acids in the skin’s outermost layer, called the stratum corneum. The reaction in the skin produces a tan color, similar to what the rays of the sun will accomplish, but without harmful skin damage.

All self-tanning formulas contain DHA, which the FDA has ruled safe for application to the skin, yet warns about inhalation and use around the mouth and eyes. Avoid inhaling the mist, which can linger in the air for a few moments after application. To prevent any accidental inhalation, hold your breath or cover your face with your hands in order to block contact with your eyes and mouth.

Technicians who offer airbrush tanning have the ability to custom-blend a tanning formula specifically for your individual complexion and coloring. Fantasy Tan, the first company to develop airbrush tanning, has eight different formulas that can be tailored to your skin tone for its most natural glow. The cost is typically $75-$100.

If you want to try the process, but want to save money, try a spray-tan booth. These standup booths deliver a tan by misting your body with a series of jets. Costing about $25 a session, a spray-tan booth offers complete privacy and overall coverage in misted self-tanner.

Offered by two companies, Mystic Tan and Hollywood Tans, the process is similar in that the tanning solution is polarized as it comes through the jets, turning each miniscule droplet into a “tiny magnet” that attaches itself to your skin. The entire session lasts less than a minute.

Although both methods provide an instant tan, with further color developing within a few hours, all companies recommend scheduling two sessions close together to achieve optimum results, with future tanning sessions scheduled as maintenance.

No matter what, keep in mind that neither process will afford your skin with any sun damage protection; be sure to slather on a sun screen containing an appropriate SPF before paying your dues in the sun.

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