How to Fake a Tan

By Kelly Conroy

Kelly Rathburn Conroy
Kelly Conroy

It’s comical how pale I am. I spend most of the year in pants, trying ardently to avoid flashing my white legs at strangers. But, even if I could tan naturally, there’s a good chance I’d still be pale. Spending forty hours indoors each week doesn’t leave much time for getting sun-kissed, and the damaging effects of UV rays convince many of us to stay covered in SPF anyway. So, why not fake it?

I’m no expert on fake (or real) tans. In high school, I experimented with self-tanning lotion only to give my legs that streaky orange look. I tried the spray booth but ended up with one side darker than the other. I’ve even had professional airbrush tans, only to have them fade into blotchy patches a few days later.

To find out what I’ve been doing wrong, and to help us all fake a tan correctly in the future, I turned to Margaret LeDoux Lamb at Space07 Salon. Margaret is an experienced esthetician and has been applying spray tans in Sacramento for over five years. Here are her pro tips for preparing yourself for a successful spray tan.

The facts:

  • Your spray tan should last 7-10 days if cared for properly
  • Tint levels can be adjusted based on your natural skin tone and how tan you’d like to be
  • The actual process takes about 15 minutes
  • Your face will fade faster than the rest of your body, so invest in a bronzer to keep everything matching
  • The average cost in Sacramento is $40-50


Shower, shave, and exfoliate on the day of.

  • Use non-oil based products in the shower like a basic soap or gel – the simpler the ingredients, the better. Oils will leave a barrier on your skin and prevent the tanning solution from penetrating properly.

Skip the smelly stuff.

  • Avoid using perfumes, lotions, and even deodorant before a spray tan. The aluminum in many deodorants can react with the copper in tanning solution and turn your skin in that area green.
  • On dry areas like elbows and knees, apply natural, unscented lotion.

Wear loose, dark clothing and no jewelry.

  • Tight clothes like jeans may rub off the tanning solution before it works its magic. Think maxi dress.

Note: If your spray tan is for a special occasion like your wedding, schedule a test run a month in advance to work out the details like which tint is the right shade for you.


Get comfortable being naked and taking direction.

  • Most people are nude during a spray tan to prevent tan lines.
  • You’ll be directed into various positions to ensure an even tan, so listen carefully and ask for clarification if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing with your hands.
  • Remember, you’re working with a professional and they’ve seen it all.

Prepare to be cold.

  • The solution is cold, the air it blows with is cold, and sometimes the room is cold (plus, you’re naked)


Let it marinate.

  • There are some great tanning solutions that only need 1 hour to set, but others can take 6-8 hours. Your best bet is to plan relaxing post-tan time – no sweating, cleaning, showering, etc. for 8 hours or more.

Shower less vigorously.

  • Soaps and body washes can make your tan fade faster so focus on just washing the necessary areas

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

  • Moisturize your skin twice per day to prevent cracking, patchiness, and premature fading. Use organic moisturizers without preservatives – coconut oil is a great option or you can invest in the tanning solution’s specific post-care products.


Why go through all this effort just for a false glow?

As it turns out, the benefits of a spray tan expand beyond the desire for sun-kissed skin:

  • No exposure to harmful UV rays means your skin stays healthier and more youthful.
  • Tan skin has a slimming effect and better defines muscles, so you’ll look and feel more fit.
  • A spray tan can reduce the appearance of cellulite.
  • A nice tan can boost your confidence.

I know I am not destined to be regularly tan, but sometimes, a quick spray tan is just what I need to charge into a special event, vacation, or even just the weekend with an extra dose of confidence.

**Margaret at Space07 is offering a special discount to anyone looking to try a spray tan – mention this article from Girls on the Grid and get two spray tans for just $45!


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1 Comment

  1. Meagan says

    Thanks for sharing these great tips. I am always trying to find ways to make my tan last longer. I will have to try to moisturize more. And I will have to pass these tips on to my friends as well. Thanks again!

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