Airbrush Tanning Troubleshooting

Resolutions to some of the most common problems associated with the effect of sunless tanning solution

This page has some helpful information regarding some common problems associated with spray tanning. Although this page by no means covers every situation someone might run unto, we've considered the most common problems regarding solution application and skin response. We also present this page as a helpful guide to relieve a client's concerns of spray tanning.

Orange or Off-Color Effect

Contrary to manufacturers' claims, almost any solution can develop an orange tone on skin. While some formulations may be more prone to this effect than others, the most common reason for an orange tone is due to over-application of the solution. The usual recommended amount of solution per session is 2 ounces, but many operators find it difficult to hold the application amount this low. The more disciplined someone can be in regards to the overall amount of solution being used, the better. Another over-application problem is a localized heavy application, produced from a heavy application in one place or over spraying on an area of the body that absorbs solution more easily. If a localized over-application occurs during a session, a towel can be used to wipe off the excess solution. However, the easiest way for the technician or self-tanner to avoid an orange, off-color effect is to pay close attention to your application technique, immediately clean off excess solution, and learn from your mistakes.

Another issue that can create a on orange or unnatural color is using a solution with the wrong DHA needed for a particular skin type. Depending on the skin type of the person being tanned, an 8%, 10%, or 12% DHA solution for a light, medium or dark complexion consecutively may be tolerated without much problem. Occasionally, though, a light-complexioned person might need something lighter than an 8%, or a situation might call for an in-between percentage of solution. Although manufacturers will condone the method, solution can be diluted using distilled* water. As the prominent ingredient in sunless tanning solution is water, there is no harm in adding more to lower the concentration of DHA to better suit a client. As a rule of thumb, about 1/2 ounces of water should be added per 2 ounces of solution to lower the DHA by 2%**. Be cautious if you wish to make a larger amount of customized solution as a more precise calculation is needed. Never use this method as a means of cutting cost, as you always want the best result for your client.

It is important to note that very occasionally, an orange color is reported due to nothing more than improper exfoliation by the client. Because of this uncertainty, we recommend highly emphasizing the significance of using a sunless exfoliating product before they leave home and offering the use of wipes or a pre-spray primer just prior to the session. We have a page dedicated entirely to the importance of proper preparation and tan maintenance: Exfoliation & Moisturization.

*Using distilled water is very important when diluting a solution, as the ingredient water in the solution is clean of impurities. Distilled water has been purified by distillation and condensation, a process that removes both ionic and nonionic contaminants.

**e.g., 1/2oz distilled water added to 2oz of 10% DHA solution will lower the DHA to about 8%.

Removing Sunless Tan Spots/Stains on Skin

Sunless tanning stains come from two sources - the immediate bronzer, which is essentially a dye, and the DHA ingredient. There are products available to deter and counteract the reaction of DHA, such as barrier cream, but nothing is particularly effective towards an already developed DHA stain on skin. We have gathered some useful home remedies that may prove effective in removing unsightly discoloration:

  • Take a 20 minute soak, either in warm water or some warm water mixed with baby oil, and scrub with some exfoliator.
  • Using a cloth or sponge, rub on some hydrogen peroxide followed by a shower.
  • Rub on some lemon juice and follow with a shower.
  • Use some body hair bleach or body hair remover according to the directions on the product. (Do not use regular bleach as it can be very damaging to the skin!)
  • Keep in mind that spray tanning discoloration only a semi-permanent thing and will rub off naturally in a couple weeks.

Poor, Uneven Fading and "Lizard Skin"

Eventually, usually several days after the tanning session, the color will begin to fade, sometimes creating a blotchy or scaly "lizard skin" appearance. The best way to counteract this is daily re-hydration using a moisturizer or tan-extender starting the day after your session. Clients with naturally dry skin will be most susceptible an uneven fade and likely benefit from a more intensive moisturization regimen. Also, be wary about using a solution with a heavier DHA percentage than needed, especially on a fair-skinned client. An unnaturally dark tan on a lighter skinned client will accentuate poor fading due to contrasts between skin cells, creating dark and light patches during the skin's natural renewing process. Usually, these issues can be dealt with by lightly exfoliating and applying a tan extender containing DHA in an attempt to create a unified color on the skin. Moisturization is essential to combat the effect of uneven fading.