I am naturally pretty pale, and I like things that way. I don’t leave the house without a broad-spectrum SPF 50 sunblock, and sometimes I even put it on if it just looks sunny outside my windows. But every once in a while I’ve had occasion to get a spray tan. Because I’m so fair to start with, spray tans actually work pretty well on me. I don’t tend to turn orange or look unnatural. Even with a fake tan I’m still lighter than most of my relatives, and I do like the way they make me look so much slimmer and more muscular, especially in photos.

I’ve had a few fake tans now, and I’ve come to be something of an expert on the subject. But there are a number of things I wish I’d known before getting one, because that would have made a few of my tans a lot better.

1. Exfoliate


Always jump in the shower and exfoliate all over before going for a spray tan. Otherwise you will wind up with dark knees and elbows. Exfoliating will make your tan more even.

2. Shave or wax first

giphy-1There is nothing quite as weird as the cross-hatching pattern you will get on your legs if you have long leg hair when you go to get a spray tan. The hairs get tanning solution on them, then press it into your legs. It will effectively paint a forest of leg hair onto your legs and look super weird. (For some reason, this was never a problem with arm hair. I do not know why.)

3. Do your nails first

giphy-2If you’re going to get a manicure, do that before the spray tan. There’s a barrier cream you can use to protect your polish from discoloring, but if you get your nails done after the tan, all the creams and rubbing might leave your hands lighter than the rest of your body.

4. Pick your outfit carefully

giphy-3You want to avoid anything that will stain from the tan, but also you will want to avoid having to wear anything that will rub the tan off. I like to wear a dark maxi dress, which means I don’t have to wear a bra or underwear underneath.

5. Bring a ponytail holder

giphy-4You’re going to need your hair up and off your neck for the rest of the day. To avoid having to use an old sock or a pair of pencils, do not forget your scrunchie.

6. No working out after your tan


Yay! A reason to skip the workout. Don’t do anything that will make you sweaty while the tan is setting.

7. No sad movies after your tan

giphy-6Just trust me on this one, it is a bad idea to go see a really sad movie right after getting a spray tan. Water causes the tan to spot or smear, so avoid showering and getting splattered with liquids right after the tan.

8. Do not use acne spot treatments

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 19.09.56If you use an acne cream that goes on directly over the pimple, it could cure your pimple but leave you with a weird white spot in its space.

8. No socks

Image: J.Crew

Image: J.Crew

Socks will rub off your tan around your ankles.

9. It will smell



A spray tan has a distinct smell. It’s not necessarily a bad smell, but it’s definitely a distinct spray tan smell.

10. No flip-flops

grass flip flopsThe thong part of a flip-flop will rub an exact impression of itself into your foot.

11. Just go naked

giphy-7They give you the option of wearing weird paper underwear, but at this point just go naked. It’s already a weird thing you’re doing. The silly underwear will not make you feel any less weird and naked.

12. Wear your contacts

giphy-8If you normally wear glasses, you’ll want to switch to contacts when you go in for your spray tan. Otherwise you risk getting little spots rubbed off on the side of your nose and temples when you put your glasses back on.

13. Check the forecast

Cat-RaincoatDon’t go get a spray tan if it is going to rain. Water will make your tan all weird and splotchy.

14. Moisturize afterwards

giphy-10Use a moisturizer regularly over your whole body while the tan is fading, it will help your tan stick around longer and fade more evenly.

(Photos: Giphy)