How Spray Tan Works

How Spray Tan Actually Works

The active tanning ingredient is called DHA – Dihydroxyacetone.  DHA is actually derived from sugar cane and has been approved as the safest method of sunless tanning by the Federal Drugs Authority for over 30 years.

DHA is clear not brown.  It is possible to spray in a clear solution, however the spray is very difficult to see.  Most often clients are sprayed in a solution containing a bronzer.  This bronzer acts as a guide for the technician to see the application and gives the client instant gratification that they have had a spray tan.  The bronzer also stains the skin so this helps to achieve the desired tan colour.

The DHA reacts with the amino acids and keratin proteins which are present in the outer layer of our skin and turns the skin brown as it would with sun tanning.  This process is called ‘Maillard Reaction’.   The process is the same as if you cut fruit and leave it on the bench and it goes brown.

The colouration process takes from 2-8 hours and can last 5-10 days, and can take you to a  depth of 2-5 shades darker than your skin dependent on the quality of DHA and extent of client after care including a tan extending program to ensure they achieve full life from their tan.

Everyone’s epidermis is constant replenishing and it takes 4-6 week for an entirely new layer of skin to develop.  For this reason sunless tans will fade gradually as the dead cells are worn away and the client will need to be sprayed again.

Green Based versus Violet Based  Spray Tan Solution

Traditionally solution has been made with a green base, and this is to help counteract orange tones.  The new technology of spray tan solution has led to the introduction of violet based solutions.

Violet based solution helps to counteract the orange tones of a spray tan, but also help to eliminate the grey colour throw that can appear with a green based solution.

A violet based solution can also help achieve the richer, more Mediterranean colour result.


The truth is that no spray tan solution can viably go above 14%. Tanning solution is made up of two vital ingredients, DHA and pigments (the bronzer).  Unfortunately these two ingredients aren’t the best of friends so finding a good balance between the two is critical.

After time, the mixed ingredients in your bottle of solution will begin to compete with each other and it will degrade the quality of your solution.  This is why manufacturers put shelf like on their products.  You’ll notice if you ever keep a bottle of solution longer than you should have, the pigment will break down and the product will be army green in colour and the DHA percentage will be so dramatically reduced you’re unlikely to see a result from the tan.

At 14% and below, the degradation process happens slowly enough that the tan will deliver perfect results for up to 6 months post opening.  This is why brands puts a shelf life on our products of 6-12 months.  So if you had a 18% DHA, the shelf life would be dramatically reduced and so would the integrity of the resulting colour.

It’s also a fact that human skin can’t absorb more than 14% DHA, so anything above the 14% DHA mark is merely a darker colour where people see a darker bronzer, but will also see this wash off and they’d have a similar result to a 14% tan.

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