Spray Tan vs Tanning Bed Before Vacation

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It’s time to get away! For many of us, travel has been difficult over the past few years, but it’s time to leave the nest.

No one wants to look like the pasty, ghostly tourist on the beach, so getting a bit of color before you go is a great idea.

But what’s better – getting a spray tan or going to the tanning bed?

We’re going to take a look at spray tan vs tanning bed before vacation and give you the lowdown on each tanning method so you can make an informed decision.


Myth Busting

Okay, first of all, let’s clear a few things out of the way before we go on.

Myth #1: There is the idea that if you get a base tan from a tanning bed before you spend time in the sun, you are less likely to get a sunburn.

Myth #2: There are also those that think the above is true and figure that a spray tan would offer the same protection.

Both of these notions are 100% false.

  • Having a tan, whether it be from the sun or from a tanning bed offers you very little protection when going out into the sun afterward.
  • A spray tan does not offer you any protection against the sun.

If you have a tan, whether a fake bake or from the sun or a tanning bed, you STILL need to use sunscreen with SPF if you are going out.

A base tan only provides about an SPF 3. That’s not zero, but sunscreens are usually SPF 30+. A base tan is not enough on its own, if you’re going to be out all day in a sunny climate.

And don’t forget, if you are traveling to a tropical region, the sun is stronger in those areas. You will burn much faster than you would if you’re in a colder climate.

Spray Tan vs Tanning Bed Before Vacation

When it comes to spray tan vs tanning bed before vacation, a spray tan is by far the better (and infinitely safer) choice if you are looking to get a little color before you hit the beach.

You can get a spray tan in one session, which will last you about a week. A tanning bed will take multiple sessions to see results.

The potential risks of spray tanning can be managed by the following:

  • Being careful not to inhale the spray
  • Protecting your eyes, nose, mouth, and private parts
  • Moisturizing

Just remember you will still need to use sunscreen with SPF, regardless. A spray tan does not offer you any protection against the sun.

While a tanning bed will provide an actual tan (as opposed to a chemical tan, see below), it doesn’t really provide any significant protection. At best, you’ll end up with a base tan that provides an SPF 3 or so.

A spray tan before a vacation is a better choice than trying to use a tanning bed.

Spray Tan

We are going to give you all the info on spray tans – what they are, how they work, and the risks involved.

What is a spray tan?

Professional spray tanning is simple, quick, and produces natural-looking results with none of the health risks associated with tanning beds or sun tanning.

There are two types of spray tan methods:

1.        Spray Booth

Most salons that offer spray tans will use a spray tan booth. These booths are outfitted with several nozzles that emit tanning solution. You can have the solution applied to your entire body quickly and efficiently.

2.        Airbrush Gun or Spray Gun

You may also find a salon that has a tanning artist that uses a spray gun to apply the spray tan. Tanning artists often work freelance and you can schedule in-home appointments. They use a portable tanning airbrush, which provides a similar level of control and consistency as tanning booths, so you are guaranteed a flawless, smooth tan without streaking.

How Does Spray Tan Work?

The active ingredient in a spray tan is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA works by creating a chemical reaction with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.

Risks of Spray Tanning

All of the risks of spray tanning are due to DHA, the active ingredient used that simulates a tan. DHA has been approved by the FDA for topical use.

DHA can be drying for your skin.

This can be easily remedied by moisturizing.

Excess Tanning

DHA has been found that with long-term overuse, the free radicals released by DHA cause oxidative stress that can accelerate skin aging, which translates to fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and sagging. DHA also lowers Vitamin D levels.

It’s important to note that this is only with long-term, overuse – like every week for several years.

If you are just getting a spray tan once in a while, like before you go on holiday, these risks do not apply.

While DHA, unless you are subjecting yourself to frequent long-term use, should not cause any side effects or damage to your skin, breathing in spray tan is another story altogether.

Don’t Inhale!

If inhaled, DHA can be absorbed into the bloodstream and trigger asthma and exacerbate lung conditions.

DHA has also been found to have the potential to cause gene mutation and may lead to the development of cancer if it is being inhaled or somehow getting into your bloodstream over a long period of time.  

Although these are some pretty scary side effects, you can very easily prevent them as long as you protect yourself during your spray tan application.

Keep spray tan away from any mucous membranes, like your eyes, nose, mouth, and your ‘girlie bits’. Wear goggles. Most tanning salons should provide you with eye protection. A nose clamp or plug will prevent you from getting it up your nose.

Wear underwear to protect your private parts. And make sure you don’t breathe while the jets are spraying on your tan.

A spray tan is still a safe way to tan and is still infinitely much safer than using a tanning bed or tanning in the sun.

Tanning Beds

First things first – do you know how a tanning bed works? Understanding the mechanics of what is actually tanning you, will go a long way. Is a tanning bed better than a spray tan for pre-vacation color? And is a tanning bed good at all?

What is a tanning bed? And how does it work?

A tanning bed, sometimes called a sun-bed, is a machine that uses ultraviolet (UV) radiation to trigger cells called melanocytes to produce melanin. Melanin is your body’s defense against UV rays and reacts by producing a brownish pigment on your skin (a.k.a. a tan).

A traditional tanning bed emits 95% UVA and 5% UVB, which is about the same percentage ratio between UVA and UVB rays you would get from walking outside on a sunny day. There are differences in UVA and UVB depending on if you’re using a traditional or a bronzing bed.

The difference between getting a tan outside and a tan in a tanning bed is that although the percentage between UVA and UVB rays are similar, the ultraviolet rays in a tanning bed are much stronger than those from the sun.

In the last couple of decades, there has been an increased awareness of the health risks of exposure to UV rays, particularly UVB rays, which are the more dangerous and cancer-causing of the two.

Tanning bed manufacturers, in an attempt to salvage their industry in a time where people are becoming much more health conscious and informed, have developed a series of filters to eliminate UVB rays.

Many tanning salons now offer UVA-only tanning beds.

Risks of Tanning Beds

Despite the fact that a lot of tanning beds today filter out the UVB rays, UVA rays can also lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

And due to the fact that the tanning bed popularity lies in the fact that you can tan faster in a tanning bed than in the sun, you are increasing your risk of these health hazards because tanning beds emit 12 times more UV radiation than natural sunlight.

Not only are you increasing your risk of things like early wrinkles and skin cancer by using a tanning bed that emits harmful rays up to 12 X stronger than the sun, eye damage is also one of the health risks of tanning beds that is not often talked about.

Contrary to popular belief, tanning beds are not safer than tanning in the sun, they are much more harmful.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association; “Just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%). The evidence that indoor tanning dramatically increases your risk of getting skin cancer is so strong that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires warning labels on all indoor tanning equipment. Women who tan indoors before they turn 30 are 6 times more likely to get melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer.”

Tanning outside has some benefits, and is better than using a tanning bed.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).