Whats the deal with spray tans?
June 16, 2009 12:11 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know, as a very pale girl, about getting a spray tan?

I have to wear a dress for a wedding in about a month, and I'm a little worried about my alabaster skin distracting the wedding guests. I've never gotten a spray tan, but think it'll look better than smearing on self tan. Any stories/tips to share?? And any recommendations for NYC tanning salons are appreciated.
posted by Unred to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm naturally extremely pale (so much so that it is hard to find light enough makeup/foundation) so I feel your pain. You didn't mention it, but have you considered going into an actual tanning booth? It'll look more natural than the spray tan, as it is your skin's natural tanned colour. I recently started going and am certainly not dark, but rather have bumped my skin colour up into the normal zone. Its been fantastic. In a month you could get a nice light tan. Just throwing it out there.

*prepares for the barrage of people condemning me to hell for tanning once a week*
posted by gwenlister at 12:18 PM on June 16, 2009

My sister (also very pale like me) used to do spray tanning, and it never really came out as evenly as applying it on her own (which I now do regularly). You have to strike all these poses in the booth that are tricky to do correctly, or so she says. I now use Neutrogena foam with bronzer included so I can see where it's applied, but I have a sneaking suspicion it may have been discontinued, as it's tricky to find lately. Definitely exfoliate well and shave your legs before going, and if you decide to do it on your own, wear medical gloves to avoid getting it around your nails- that's a bitch to get off.

Re: tanning booths- Not condemning you to hell, but I went for a few sessions before prom when I was in high school, and I could see noticeable wrinkles that weren't there before after going. UV damage can be really harmful to very pale people, but at the end of the day, it's your choice.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2009

Consider having someone airbrush you rather than doing a spray booth. Some places offer both services. Ask someone there about how long you should have it done before the event. I would not do the tanning booth because they are not the best for your health.
posted by heather-b at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2009

Seconding the tanning bed. I am crazy pale, and no self-tanning product that I have ever tried has looked anything less than fake. The last time I wanted to get a good tan, I bought a 1-month contract at a tanning salon and a $30 bottle of tan accelerant. I went every day for the entire month, starting at ridiculously low tan times (think 3 or 4 minutes) and working up to 20-minute sessions. After the 30 days, I was darker than I had ever been, and it lasted through the year. Best $60 I ever spent.

Maybe I'm just a chicken, but everytime I see a starlet on the red carpet with orange ankles and white feet, I just have to think that if their spray tans (which probably cost as much as my rent) look *that* bad, then I can't imagine what the cheap-o version would look like.
posted by tryniti at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tanning booths are out, because I just don't tan.

Airbrushing is different than spray tans??
posted by Unred at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2009

I went to Brazil Bronze, http://www.brazilbronze.com/ for an airbrush tan before a wedding last year. It was in a building on Broadway, in Soho, though I believe they have other locations. I am very pale generally, but I had bad tan lines (from the bachelorette party) that looked really terrible with the bridesmaid dress I had to wear.

It was pricey ($60 or so I believe) and odd to stand there virtually naked (I kept on underwear, but you had the option of going without, or wearing a paper thong I think) as a stranger sprays you with a gun that looks like a smaller version of the ones they use to paint cars. She would tell me how to move so she could spray me correctly, and then I spent about 5 min standing in front of a fan to dry. I couldn't shower for about 12 hours to let the tan "set". I couldn't wear a bra for that long either, because the dress was low-cut in the back and they said putting a bra on too soon might mark up the tan. That was annoying, as I don't go out in public without a bra ever, but I don't know if this would matter to you.

I asked for the lightest shade, which was still darker than my usual white/freckled skin. I got a lot of compliments on it the day of the wedding, and though I don't think that I looked very natural, it must not have screamed "fake tan" because several people (including my father, who really should have known better) asked if I had been away/spent a few days at the beach.

Other than the obvious of shaving/exfoliating first, I would also note that if you plan on getting a pedicure, do that in advance as well. I couldn't, because we were going as a bridal party to get them together, but the exfoliating they do to your legs and feet during the pedicure started to make the tan come off in places, just a bit. Not a big deal, but I noticed.

The tan lasted about 5 days, though I eventually exfoliated to get the remaining bits off because it was not coming off evenly and I looked patchy. I don't generally mind being pale so I wouldn't spend the money again generally, but in a situation like I was in, to correct tan lines for an event, I would go there again.

Three things to note if you choose to go to Brazil Bronze: 1 - they take your credit card when you make the appointment, so they will charge you if you don't show; 2 - its very busy on Friday afternoons, so if you want to get tanned just before your event, I'd make an appointment early. Also note that they were running about 45 min behind on appts the day I was there, though I don't know if that is usual or just my bad luck; and 3 - if you give them your email address, they will constantly send discounts and come-ons for other services (spray on make-up! eyelash extensions! etc).

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by Caz721 at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2009

I don't know about spray tans (sorry!), but if you decide to look for a self-tanner, the makeup alley product reviews were great when I had to find foundation that actually worked for my pale skin (I searched for ppp - it's their board's acronym for pale porcelain princess), and I'd assume they'd also have reviews on self-tanner for those w/ pale skin.
posted by ejaned8 at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2009

If you just don't tan (and I'm the same way), then tan color, no matter how professionally airbrushed/sprayed/massaged into your skin, will look fake if my own experience and observations are accurate. If you're a guest and thus are choosing your own clothes, have you picked out a dress/outfit in a color that works well with your pale skin? That could solve the problem entirely. Some colors on me elicit the "Oh my god, has she never seen sunlight?" response and seem to accentuate any splotch or variation in color, where others make my skin glow. I hope this isn't a non-answer, my point is just that I don't think spray-tan or similar will do for you what you want it to, so I'd recommend focusing on the color(s) you're wearing.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:41 PM on June 16, 2009

Unred - airbrushing is a finer spray, done by a human so it's more even looking. The 'sprayer' can also take care around your face. Those spray booths are not as conducive to even sprays. Here's an example. Not sure about cost. :)
posted by heather-b at 12:41 PM on June 16, 2009

Have you considered a gradual self-tanner, like this one from Bath and Body Works, or this one from Aveeno? I'm not specifically recommending either one, those are just a couple of examples of many you can find, in drugstores and at higher end department stores. It may be a good option for you to try and get a little color but not go too dark and without the worry of it being really uneven.

On the other hand, I don't think there is anything unattractive or distracting about having pale skin, so if decide to just go as you are I think you'll look great, too.
posted by JenMarie at 12:42 PM on June 16, 2009

Friend has a Brooklyn recommendation: Perfectly Polished on Atlantic btwn Henry & Hicks. Not sure how much, I think it was around $35.
posted by witchstone at 12:44 PM on June 16, 2009

I've never had a spray tan, but I have dated women that have. Since you have a bit of time, I would go ahead and get one to see how you like it. If you hate it, one month is plenty of time to let it fade.

If you do a booth, be careful of standing in the solution. It will severely darken the bottom of your feet. Not a big deal if you are wearing closed shoes, but can be embarrassing for flip-flops and the like.
posted by studentbaker at 12:47 PM on June 16, 2009

It will look weird. I have very pale skin, as does everyone in my family. My cousin has tried every tanning method on earth, real and fake, and they all look ridiculous. If your natural coloring is pale, and you don't naturally tan in the sun, you'll look silly with tan paint all over you.

I would suggest investing instead in a really good makeup job. Get a professional quality foundation that matches your skin tone, some subtle blush, and really good eye and lip makeup. It'll make all the difference in the photos, and you'll still look like you.
posted by decathecting at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2009

Maybe this is just my own bias as a proudly pale lady, but I've rarely seen a spray tan look very natural on someone who didn't already have mid to darker toned skin. That said, when I wear dresses that show my legs to nicer events, I do typically like to have a little color on them since they're even paler than my upper body. They're so white I can trace veins from my hips to my toes and they reflect so much light I fear I'll make people go blind.

After years of splotchy, unnatural fake tanners, I've recently had good results with gradual tanners. They're more like lotion with just a bit of tanner stuff in them. You can apply it once or twice a day and slowly build up an even, non-streaky color. The best part is, you can stop when it gets to the level you want. It's easier to add a bit more color than to try to undo a case of Lindsay Lohan Orange of Doom on short notice.

I used Jergen's Natural Glow because it's what my drugstore had, but I've heard good things about Aveeno Continuous Radiance, Dove Energy Glow, Coppertone Endless Summer, L'oreal Sublime Bronze Gradual.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am white as they come. I haven't tried the spray tanning solution but I did try a gradual self-tanner that JenMarie recommended a couple years back to good results. Everyone complimented me on how healthy I looked. The only downside was that it faded in a very blotchy uneven way but it faded fairly quickly so it wasn't really an issue. You may want to try one of those products out and see how it works. I just couldn't get used to my tanned self even though it looked good so I went back to natural.
posted by rainygrl716 at 1:06 PM on June 16, 2009

everytime I see a starlet on the red carpet with orange ankles and white feet, I just have to think that if their spray tans (which probably cost as much as my rent) look *that* bad, then I can't imagine what the cheap-o version would look like.

This. And do you also have dry skin? If so, it's even harder to get even results.

I'm very fair, and yeah, every tiny little ancient memory of a mosquito bite shows as a shadowy smudge, and my knees are a little ruddy all the time, and I totally feel your pain. But I've never found a product that I liked using and made me happy. I'm going to give the gradual lotion stuff one more try on my whiter-than-everything-else legs, but I'm not optimistic.
posted by desuetude at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that you'll need to change your makeup shades - foundation and powder for sure, possibly lipstick and eyeshadow as well. So whatever you do, I would do a trial run now so you can match up what you need, or allow time for running out to get the makeup after you get the spray tan.
posted by KAS at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

you could also try mixing some self tanner with lotion, in order to go even lighter. i am a pale person, too, and don't tan very well (normally i'll burn and then be a bit tan for awhile, but it's not consistent). i'm currently using the jergens foaming stuff, which i like quite well (not as smelly or streaky as others i've tried). good luck!
posted by sucre at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2009

I'm extremely pale with the red hair and pale blue-grey eyes to go with it.


I got a spray tan, for a wedding, just as you are planning to. Instead of feeling better about how my skin looked--I also have bumpy red upper arms--I just felt weird. Like, Can they tell it's fake? Is it even? What happens when it starts to fade? Etc.

So instead of feeling more comfortable, I felt less comfortable.

I wish I would have spent that money on new makeup or some nice jewelry or getting my hair done up really nice or something... instead of a fake tan.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:54 PM on June 16, 2009

I second the idea of trying it out now, to see how you feel about it.
My skin is very very pale, although I can tan. I have done the booth tan a couple of times (like you, when going to weddings) and liked it a lot. It's cheap, it's fast, and it looked good and natural. They give you lotion to put on your feet and hands to keep from oversaturating the skin there. It is very weird in the booth -- the stuff they spray on you is cold, and it's startling. It's especially bad because you don't want to breathe it in, so you're holding your breath and then you get hit by the spray and gasp. But it only lasts I think 14 seconds per side, and then it's over. They'll show you a video at the salon so you know how the process works, but basically you go into a private room, get undressed, get in the booth and push the button. The machine counts down and sprays you. Get out, wipe up any drips, get dressed and go. There's an instant color that will wash off with your first shower -- that always ended up looking dirty on me. You can't shower for 12-24 hours afterwards, to give the real stuff the time to develop. Once I washed off the insta-color it looked great, and any missed spots I could just hit with a bottle of self-tanner to bring them more in line.
posted by katemonster at 2:42 PM on June 16, 2009

I'm another translucent glow-in-the-dark girl. I've never done a spray tan, but I've done the Jergens gradual lotion and liked it.

One product that I absolutely love, and used for my best friend's wedding, is AirStocking/AirSilk - they are made by the same manufacturer, but at different price points as I recall. I'd suggest going with the lightest color - it'll make you look just a tiny bit darker, and it will even out the tone of your skin, kind of like foundation. (I can see my veins through the skin on my legs, and AirStocking "fixes" that.) I didn't use it on my arms or shoulders, but I don't see why you couldn't. It washes off and I've never had a problem with it staining anything. Four years ago, when it was the hot new thing, you could buy it at any drugstore - not sure it's as widely available now.

I'm not going to condemn anyone for choosing to hit the tanning beds, but I would never recommend it to anyone. Health risks aside, I'm generally in favor of embracing one's natural pallor.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:46 PM on June 16, 2009

Just for the record, do you ever think that really pale skin can be ridiculously beautiful?

I think you should look at this picture before you go any further. Website title is moderately NSFW.
posted by sully75 at 2:50 PM on June 16, 2009

Tanning booths are out, because I just don't tan.

Just as a follow-up, I have never been able to tan in the sun either. But after 30 days in the tanning bed I was able to get a not-too-dark, natural looking tan. It took about 3 weeks for me to start seeing any color, but by the end of the 4th week I looked great, and got many, many complements on how "healthy" I looked. I've only done this twice in my life, both for special occasions, but I saw no immediate negative effects. I know tanning isn't great for the skin, but if you are determined to get a tan for an occasion, I think it's the way to go rather than risk an uneven, unnatural looking fake tan.
posted by tryniti at 3:18 PM on June 16, 2009

I don't get it. Are there really people who think pale skin is unattractive?
posted by Afroblanco at 4:02 PM on June 16, 2009

One more data point: I, a relatively normal american male of the pacific northwest, am completely turned off by fake tans, and equally turned on by alabaster skin on a nice girl.

Caveat: I probably won't be at the wedding.
posted by Aquaman at 4:12 PM on June 16, 2009

I don't get it. Are there really people who think pale skin is unattractive?

Yup. I remember reading a newspaper "business advice" column just a few years back that, in a discussion of the newish acceptance of bare legs in summertime in more casual offices, warned against women attempting such a thing unless they a) possess a youthful and perfect pair of legs and b) are not going to foist pasty-white legs upon the public. I am not kidding.

The problem with having fair skin is that it's not just white. Every little imperfection and blemish and mosquito bite and razor bump shows pinkish-purple, your veins show through pink and purple and green, and if you get either too hot or too cold, your skin can look blotchy.

I've made my peace with it and don't usually get self-conscious about it anymore, but we lily-white folks do get a big dose of "tanned skin is more attractive," even these days.
posted by desuetude at 5:45 PM on June 16, 2009

I am very pale as well, but over the summer I had my first spray tan. It actually worked very well, looked natural and faded evenly. I went to a place where they personally spray you, rather than standing in a booth. I asked for the lightest shade, and it wasn't too dark and evened out my skintone nicely, and was definitely not orange. I'd definitely recommend going in for a test run first a month before the wedding, and remember to exfoliate beforehand.
posted by nextian_geometry at 6:43 PM on June 16, 2009

another super-white gal; I liked the Aveeno stuff for just making my face look more...even...somehow, but it also makes my face break out. Also adding to the chorus of sticking with your normal color, maybe just getting good makeup. If the color of the dress isn't totally scary against your skin, and the skirt isn't too short, maybe embrace your inner (um, outer) paleness?
posted by epersonae at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2009

Yup. I remember reading a newspaper "business advice" column just a few years back that, in a discussion of the newish acceptance of bare legs in summertime in more casual offices, warned against women attempting such a thing unless they a) possess a youthful and perfect pair of legs and b) are not going to foist pasty-white legs upon the public. I am not kidding.

Um...not to be horribly generalizing or stereotypical but I'm going to be horribly generalizing and stereotypical. Women seem to spend a lot of time doing "research" in publications that are designed to sell expensive products to them to make them more attractive. And then they buy that crap and end up looking ridiculous. I wouldn't necessarily take my ideas about my body or skin color or anything else from a business advice column or vogue or whatever.

God there's a poor girl in my class who is quite attractive but has some sort of dark foundation stuff plastered all over her face, it looks ridiculous. I guess for a certain sort of (moronic) dude that would appeal but I just don't get it.
posted by sully75 at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2009

It will look worse if you do something that isn't natural. Fake tanners smell bad, stain your clothes and stain the sheets. Real tanning makes you get old faster. Once, I went to sleep several hours after applying fake tanner, and ruined a $250 feather comforter. It still functions as a feather comforter, but after multiple washings the stains are still there.
posted by sidecar144 at 4:29 PM on June 22, 2009

sully75, the column I mention was in a regular ol' newspaper, not a glossy magazine designed to sell Clinique. My point being that it is "common knowledge" that "pasty" skin is ugly.

I agree that this is ridiculous and insulting.
posted by desuetude at 5:15 PM on June 22, 2009

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