How Spray Tans Have Changed Since 2006

I’ll always remember my first spray tan.

It was the day before my high school’s winter semi-formal, when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were the peak of aspirational. They were blonde, they were orange, and they didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of their totally unnatural look.

Thanks in part to their constant presence in pop culture, tanning year round had recently become a must. Salons were popping up everywhere and white girls all over the tri-state area were frying ourselves to a crisp in an effort to get the orangey-brown glow that graced Paris Hilton’s malnourished yet expansive abs.

As someone who doesn’t tan easily, I figured the only way I could replicate the skin tone of the moment was to get a spray tan. So I marched to the tanning salon down the block with two of my besties and we signed up for a $20 spray tan. One by one, we stepped into a metallic cubicle, butt naked, and got hosed down with stinky sunless tanner by a machine. We were instructed beforehand to first stand facing the machine, then stand facing away from it, and then stand with each side facing it. As we assumed all four positions, we were supposed to do robotic dance moves with our arms to ensure that they were evenly covered.

As you might expect from a mechanically applied beauty treatment, we looked a hot mess afterward. We were all varying shades of orangey brown — Crayola might have deemed us “burnt sienna” — and covered in streaks from day one. The next day, in my pink and black Express semi-formal dress and perfect sausage curls, I felt like a pumpkin spice princess.

I almost didn’t even care that a frenemy of mine had loudly proclaimed in homeroom the day before, as my besties and I admired ourselves, “Actually you guys look orange.” Almost.

Because of the shoddy spray tan tactics of the 2000s, most people shy away from getting a spray tan today. At the very least, they shy away from admitting they’ve had one. But spray tan technology has changed a lot since 2006, and the resultant glow you get from a spray looks a lot more natural.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2006? My inability to get a good tan in the sun without an entire summer’s worth of effort. So that’s why I still spray tan. This week, I got a tan from the esteemed Paul Labrecque Salon on the Upper East Side — you can see my incredibly non-orange before-and-after results in the photo above. Catiana Van Dinh, who did my tan, explained to me that the Air Bronze method they use at Paul Labrecque is light — you spray on a thin layer, then if you want more, you add more. But if not, you just leave it. Catiana also gave me a full-body exfoliation treatment first, which I highly recommend.

The lightness and build-able nature of the tan sets it apart from the tanning methods of the ’00s. Back then, it was one size fits all. You want to be darker? You dye your skin darker. End of story. But now, the best spray tans are all about building color. Catiana told me that she’d spray me once, and then if we wanted more color, we’d add it. But to start, we went really subtle.

Another change: you’re not supposed to say spray tan anymore because of the orangey connotations. The treatment I got was called Air Bronze. It also smelled way better than the spray tans of old.

Many formulas now also have bronzers built in so that the technician can see where she’s applied it, spray tan expert Sammi Bass told me. This helps prevent streaking.

The result was a super natural-looking glow that wasn’t orange at all — no Donald Trump comparisons or nasty comments from frenemies for me.

Gimme More Beauty

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