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All About Spray Tanning

How do Sunless / Self Tanners work?

The principle tanning agent used in all self-tanning formulas is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This ingredient does not produce a "real tan" by increasing the skin's melanin levels, rather it creates a tanned appearance by developing a brown color on the surface of the skin.

The action of DHA is limited to the upper layer of the skin and involves a reaction between DHA and skin proteins and oxygen that produces brown compounds. This process is similar to what occurs when you slice open an apple and the surface of the apple browns when it's exposed to the oxygen in the air.

The development of color takes anywhere from 2 to 4 hours and the intensity of color is dependent upon the DHA concentration in the product as well as each tanner's individual skin characteristics. The color developed by the DHA usually lasts 5-7 days and begins to fade as the top layer of the skin naturally exfoliates.

How long does it last?

The longevity of a sunless tan depends on the type of application, the skin's natural exfoliation process and on the skincare regimen followed before and after application.

On average, self tanners last 4-7 days. A professional application will last longer than an at-home application as there is usually a greater percentage of DHA used.

At home application (lotions, sprays, mousse, etc.) = 3-5 days

Professional application ( stand-up units, airbrush, custom bronzing) = 5-7 days

The "life span" of a sunless tan also depends on your skin's natural exfoliation. The faster your skin turns over, the faster the tan will fade. The tan created by the DHA affects only the top layer of the skin and will begin to fade after 4-5 days as the skin naturally begins to exfoliate.

Following a good skin care regime before and after sunless tanning will help a sunless tan last longer. Exfoliating prior to a sunless tanning application and keeping skin moisturized afterwards are essential. Sunless tan-extending products with a light self-tanning bronzer will help to hydrate the skin and maintain an even, more natural looking color longer.

How long do I need to wait to shower? Swim?

DHA solutions take about 16 hours to fully develop. Clients will receive the best results if they can avoid bathing until the day after their sunless session. If you must bathe, please wait a minimum of 6 hours after application unless a rapid solution is used. If a rapid solution is used then the tan will continue to develop over time and a shower may be taken as soon as 2 hours post spray or when desired color is reached.

It is important to note that if you are showering prior to the 16-hour post application recommendation, a simple rinse with water only, is best. Soap destroys DHA. Delayed bathing allows the DHA bronzer sufficient time to complete its reaction with the amino acids or proteins within the skin. 

Also be aware that the cosmetic bronzer is the color that is immediately visible during the session and it will wash off during the first shower, revealing the DHA bronze tan underneath. Please don't think that your tan is washing down the drain!

We recommend avoiding pools/spas/oceans for the first 48 hours following your spray tan. Chlorinated pools and spas can increase the rate in which the skin exfoliates causing the tan to wear and fade rapidly.

Why is keeping my skin moisturized essential to maintain great sunless results?

It is important to keep skin moisturized after sunless tanning as dry, flaky skin will slough off faster and color will fade sooner. Your goal is to basically slow down your body's natural exfoliation process.

Sunless tan-extending products with a light self-tanning bronzer will help to hydrate skin and maintain an even and natural-looking color longer by providing subtle bronzers.

Will the bronzers from a spray tanning application rub off on my clothes?

If you are using a spray solution with a cosmetic bronzer (water-soluble make-up), some of the bronze color may rub off on clothing or bed sheets. This is most likely to happen when you get dressed immediately after tanning.

To minimize the chance of the bronzers transferring to clothing, we recommend you wear loose-fitting, darker clothes after your spray session. Try to refrain from physical exertion that could result in your sweating until you shower and wash off the cosmetic bronzers. 

All cosmetic bronzers used with Norvell products are water-soluble. Therefore, in most cases, the color will come out of clothing in the wash. 

It is however important to note bronzers may stain light hair, wool, spandex, lycra, silks or other fine fabrics. If product comes into contact with hands or clothing rinse immediately.

Will I turn orange?

When used as recommended, Norvell's professional and retail sunless tanning products are formulated to give a natural, just off the beach color, starting with our perfectly blended instant cosmetic bronzers that allow you to gently transition into your DHA tan over 24 hours after application.

High pH levels in the skin can sometimes give individuals an undesirable, "fake" non-natural looking sunless color. Sunless application on skin that is out of balance due to high pH levels sometimes results in what many people refer to as an "orange" coloring.

To prevent this from happening, there are a few things you can do:


Do not use bar soaps before your sunless session. A properly pH balanced skin cleanser will not elevate pH levels on the skin, and result in a more "golden brown" sunless tanning result.

Norvell recommends spraying the body with Pre Sunless xLaTan pH Balancing Spray prior to any sunless application. This product is formulated to lower the pH levels of the skin giving a more golden brown color, and maximizing your sunless results. We include this in every one of our sunless airbrushing sessions!

Do not over apply sunless products. In general, the darker your natural skin tone, the higher concentration of DHA you can apply to the skin and still maintain "natural" color. Generally those with fair/light skin tones should apply less DHA to the skin to ensure natural looking results. Be sure to not only evaluate how much product you apply to the skin, but what concentration level of DHA in each product is. Sunless products that are designed to give a darker color may not be desirable for fair skin.

What about the after smell often associated with sunless tanning?

Norvell professional sunless solutions and Norvell retail self-tanning products use advanced DHA odor encapsulation, the newest technology in odor inhibitors, to "trap" odor causing molecules commonly associated with DHA products and virtually eliminate sunless odor. 

As an added bonus at no extra cost to you, we offer a moisturizing hydrofirm spray after your color to not only help to moisturize and seal in your tan but to also take one step further to eliminate any lingering spray tan smell!

How should I prepare for my appointment?

Preparation and maintenance of your sunless tan is the KEY to sunless success. Make sure to read our online sunless preparation and maintenance guide prior to your sunless application.

Please read carefully:

  • Gently exfoliate your skin prior to your sunless spray session. A gentle, sulfate-free skin polish can be used prior to your sunless session.  

  • Any waxing or shaving should be performed 24 hours in advance of applying sunless products.

  • Remove any "barriers"that may prevent the sunless product from absorbing into the skin evenly. These include, but are not limited to makeup, deodorant, perfume, oils, moisturizers, residue from hair conditioners.   

  • Optimize your skin surface pH levels prior to application. Do not use bar soaps prior to your sunless tan. 


We will spray a priming coat of xLaTan which works on the skin surface in 3 ways:

  • boosts amino acid levels, which work directly with DHA, to maximize sunless color results

  • balances the pH on skin to reduce any "orange" coloring and produce golden brown results

  • hydrates skin for even and maximum absorption of sunless solution

I will send this to your email after your appointment confirmation so you have it for a quick reference.

How can I prevent patchy or uneven wear-off? And how often can I get a spray tan?

Many individual factors can contribute to patchy or uneven wear-off, as each person's skin is different. It is best to follow our Norvell Preparation and Maintenance Guide for maximum sunless results.

  • Be sure to gently polish the skin before each sunless session using Norvell Renewing Sunless Exfoliator

  • Keep skin hydrated on the inside and out. Using a product such as Norvell Skin Repairing Body Butter or a daily application of Norvell Color Extender Pro-Long Moisturizer will extend the look of your tan. This bronzing booster will also reduce the appearance of uneven wear and patchiness.

  • It is also recommended that individuals not tan more than 3 times in a 2 week period, to avoid build up of tanning solution that will contribute to uneven wear-off. This allows a complete cycle of natural exfoliation and eliminates patchiness or uneven areas of wear, such as around the waist, inside the arms where the elbow bends, underarms, and backs of knees. These are natural areas of the body where friction from clothing and daily activities may cause premature exfoliation.

In addition, spraying too frequently may also cause the skin to exfoliate more rapidly thus decreasing the longevity of your sunless tan; as over application can alter the skin's pH levels, causing it to shed more frequently.

How long does the spray tan take to dry? And how dark will I get after one application?

Norvell Solution should dry enough to re-dress in about 8 minutes. Your spray technician can reduce this time by removing the spray gun from the quick disconnect air hose and "blow drying" the skin.

Results will vary based on the individual's skin type and pH balance. Norvell solutions have been formulated to provide a color that will be appealing to the majority of sunless tanners, and a variety of shades will allow you to find the perfect solution for your individual needs.

Will a sunless tan protect me from exposure to UV sun rays? And is it safe for pregnant women?

A sunless spray tan will not protect you from the suns uv rays. It is common to get a false sense of security when you have been spray tanned. Your skin will still burn when overexposed. It is still necessary to apply SPF lotions or sprays when in the sun. Norvell solutions do NOT contain any SPF.

Norvell Sunless Spray Solutions are non-toxic, and utilize only the BEST DHA which has been vigorously tested before entering any Norvell formulation.

Each Norvell solution is:

  • Paraben Free

  • Gluten Free

  • Sulfate Free

  • Nut-Allergen Free

  • Propylene Glycol Free

  • Phthalates Free

  • Synthetic Fragrance Free

With all of the above being said, Norvell does NOT staff licensed physicians, therefore as you would before using ANY product on an expectant mother, we recommend each client consult with their personal physician before receiving a DHA sunless spray tan application.

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