Organic Spray Tan: Prep, Aftercare, Dangers, and Cost

Organic spray tan
  • Sunless tanning is a popular means of achieving a ‘bronzed’ look without sun exposure.
  • Spray tanning is an easier alternative to applying products on your own.
  • Providers of organic spray tanning products claim to use all-natural ingredients – minus the chemicals.

What is an organic spray tan?

The tanning trend was spurred on by sun-kissed models in fashion magazines and buffed, bronzed actors frolicking through beach movies, convincing many of us that we only look healthy when we’re tanned. Sadly, this trend led to decades of unhealthy sun exposure and little skin protection. The introduction of self-tanning products that would ‘paint’ a picture of good health, therefore, was very welcome. These products are available as lotions, creams, gels or sprays. Now, we have organic spray tans. But what is it exactly?

‘Organic’ is a term associated with many products, particularly food. Essentially, it means ‘derived from living organisms’ but the word is often overused, and people often interpret it as meaning ‘healthy’ or ‘natural.’ Browse the internet and you’ll find many clinics and salons offering organic spray tanning services. Many of them claim that this option offers beautiful, streak-free color that is different from what is seen with a regular spray tan, that it looks completely natural, and masks any number of skin issues (like stretch marks). The words used to describe an organic spray tan are similar from one provider to another, and highlight such purported benefits, including:

  • physician-formulated and dermatologist-approved
  • fragrance, alcohol, oil, chemical and ‘orange’ free
  • hypoallergenic
  • fast-drying formula
  • fades evenly
  • FDA-approved ingredients
  • PETA-approved/cruelty-free
  • color-correcting pigments.

How do I know whats organic?

Ultimately, what we need to understand is what criteria are used to classify an ingredient as ‘organic.’ For example, dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the most common active ingredient in spray tanning solutions, and it can be created from natural sources like sugar beets or sugar cane. However, there are differences in opinions on whether naturally-based DHA is actually organic. Some providers of organic spray tans claim that they are using ‘botanical’ DHA, and that this organic blend provides the best results.

At their simplest, organic spray tanning solutions may include jojoba, coconut oil, and herb and botanical plant extracts. The solution will likely not contain parabens, mineral oil, alcohol, artificial colors, or preservatives. Solutions are often aloe-based and some are cacao-based. Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and a Clinical Instructor at the University of Southern California, explains that “DHA is a sugar that oxidizes our skin and causes it to darken. When this top layer of skin sheds dead skin cells (usually within 1-2 weeks), the color from any kind of tanning solution will fade.” Bronzers, she clarifies, do not include DHA; they literally paint the skin and wash off in the shower and pool. DHA can have an odor, which can be masked by fragrance in the vehicle and can also make some skin types appear more orange than brown, she notes.

Spray tan prep

When it comes to spray tans, you can shop for a product and do it yourself at home or opt for a professional service. Although it’s cheaper to do this at home, you may be somewhat limited in the total body area you can cover – unless you get a friend to help. If you opt for the DIY, do only a section of your body at a time and lightly massage the solution into your skin in a circular motion. Make sure you wash your hands as you finish each section so that your palms don’t get stained. Having a spray tan done professionally entails a technician applying a tanning solution to your skin with a spray gun. Note, most salons can personalize the spray product for you, based on your skin type and your color preferences.

Once you’ve booked your appointment, there are a few things you need to do to prepare.

  • First, to ensure your skin’s best possible absorption of the tanning solution, plan on exfoliating prior to the session and spend a bit more time on areas with thicker skin, like ankles and elbows.
  • Remember to shave or use a depilatory a day or two before application and not the day you are going to the clinic, since it will leave your pores open.
  • Don’t apply moisturizers or perfumes and don’t wear makeup to your appointment.
  • To avoid staining your clothes, try to wear loose-fitting garments and go braless if you can. Avoid any article of clothing that has an elastic band and make sure you remove your rings, bracelets and necklaces.

Spray tan aftercare

Applied professionally, a spray tan will take about 20 minutes, which includes drying. Immediately following your session, moisturize your skin with a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer.

  • Don’t dress for at least 10 minutes, whether at home or in a salon.
  • Avoid exercise or anything else that might cause you to perspire
  • Stay out of hot tubs or chlorine-containing pools.
  • Remember to delay showering or bathing for at least 8 hours following application as it takes time for the solution to set on your skin.
  • When you do wash, don’t use a facecloth and don’t scrub your skin with anything rough like a loofah. Pat yourself dry gently – no rubbing.

Spray tan dangers

There are other considerations to ponder with organic spray tanning. While DHA is generally considered safe as a self-tanning solution and received FDA approval for external use in 1977, its use in a spray format is a little more contentious. The concern is that it is unclear what effect it may have on the lungs.

If you are going to use such a product, protect your eyes (use goggles), nose (try a filter) and mouth (cover your lips with lip balm). If you opt for a professional application, ensure that the salon offers you this protection. DHA should not be inhaled. If it is, it may cause nausea, dizziness and/or headaches.

More serious but very rare problems, including asthmatic reactions and cancer, were reported in a 2015 study. More recently, a study exploring the risks of DHA exposure in sunless tanning products concluded that “there is no clear, safe use of DHA-containing sunless tanning products when applied via aerosol delivery systems.”

Dr. Shainhouse notes that the vehicle (lotion, gel, cream or spray base) can be irritating to sensitive skin types. “Organic self-tanners may use organic ingredients in their vehicle, but DHA is DHA. And don’t be fooled by the ‘natural’ chocolate or coffee-based self-tanning salons. They are not tinting your skin with the chocolate or coffee,” she cautions.

At the end of the day, organic spray tanning is likely a safe and effective way to give your skin a healthy, sun-kissed glow. Just make sure to do your homework. Read product labels carefully, and if you’re going the professional route, be scrupulous about the salon you select and make sure they provide you with adequate protection to avoid inhaling the product.

How much does a spray tan cost?

The cost of a professionally-applied organic spray tan ranges from $25 – $60. Most last 7 to 10 days, depending on your activity level. It’s important to ensure that the tan has completely faded before committing to a new application. It cannot be overemphasized that organic or not, spray tan solutions do not protect your skin from the sun, and should never be considered a substitute for your usual sunscreen.

Organic Spray Tans: Top Products

Getting a healthy glow without the damage caused by harmful chemicals or the sun can be tricky. Luckily, several organic self-tanning lotions and sprays help to balance your short-term bronzing needs with your long-term skin and health goals. The following products are among the best at-home sunless bronzing options available.

Gold Mountain Beauty Instant Spray Tan

Gold Mountain Beauty Instant Spray Tan

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Unlike the sun, Gold Mountain Beauty’s Instant Spray Tan gives your skin that “healthy bronzed glow” while actually being good for your skin. Whereas the sun’s rays damage and age skin, this tanning spray’s organic ingredients (including walnut shell extract, chamomile, and aloe vera) leave your skin hydrated. Though many associate non-sun-based tans with an “orange” look, Gold Mountain Beauty promises a true natural bronze.
Beauty by Earth Self Tanner

Beauty by Earth Self Tanner

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Combining the effects of moisturizing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and green tea, Beauty by Earth’s Self Tanner is another fantastic option for bronze in a bottle. The main difference between Beauty by Earth’s tanner and Gold Mountain Beauty’s is the application process. While Gold Mountain Beauty’s tanner is applied in a spray form, Beauty by Earth’s is a lotion that is massaged into the skin. This makes Beauty by Earth’s Self Tanner easier to apply in delicate areas, particularly near your eyes and mouth.

My Skin's Friend Organic Self Tanner

My Skin’s Friend Organic Self Tanner


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If you are new to self-tanning, My Skin’s Friend’s tanner includes a book of tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your tanning experience. Sweet potato extract, organic aloe, and frankincense provide an organic and rejuvenating bronzing. My Skin’s Friend promises a no streak, no stain application, and a tanner that can provide varying levels of tanned depending on your beauty goals.

Sun Laboratories Spray Tan + Mitt

Sun Laboratories Spray Tan + Mitt

Established in 1983, Sun Laboratories has a long history of providing sunless tans. Their spray tanning system comes with an application mitt to help provide you with a smooth and even tan. This paraben-free spray is ideal for those looking for a deep tanning experience without the risk of getting burned.

Golden Star Beauty Tan Extender Daily Moisturizer

Golden Star Beauty Tan Extender Daily Moisturizer

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If you are looking to extend the 7 to 10 days that spray tans typically last, look no further. Golden Star Beauty’s body lotion uses organic ingredients to help tanslast up to three days longer. The vegan-friendly cream’s wealth of natural ingredients like avocado oil, argan oil, and jojoba oil also leave your skin nourished and healthier than ever.

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