How to Get The Most Natural-Looking Spray Tan

Spray Tan

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Words by Bridget March

The best spray-tanner in the business shares his tips for achieving a natural look that lasts

Scary to some, but second nature to me, a spray tan is the beauty treatment I find most mood-boosting. As with lash extensions and hair colouring, my personal preference when it comes to a faux glow is for enhanced realness. It’s barely there, but charges my confidence immeasurably.

Over the last 15 years working in beauty, I have visited the so-coined ‘Tom Ford of Tanning’, James Harknett, more than 50 times, and sent twice as many people his way. Not once has the result been less than perfect, by which I mean realistic and even-looking, for the tan’s entirety (a good week or more). Using a formula that complements my colourings, like a second skin it’s undetectable to those who don’t see me daily (and some who do). Just as ‘no make-up’ make-up makes you feel alive, Harknett’s work is the ‘non-fake’ fake tan that whispers ‘you look well’.

While you’re guaranteed the same result, with a bespoke experience, via an appointment with Harknett at the W Hotel’s Away Spa, whether you can get to him or not, here we share his knack for making a spray tan infallible.

The key characteristics of a natural-looking spray tan

It’s about finding a shade that suits your complexion, Harknett feels – “one that mimics the colour that your skin would go in the sun. If you’re fair skinned, for example, choosing too dark a shade will look unrealistic”.

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Another characteristic is how the colour graduates towards the wrists and hands. “If there is an abrupt stop, then this is a clear sign you are faking it.”

Finally, it’s about how the tan wears over time. “Ensuring that your tan is well maintained will allow it to fade evenly with minimal break up,” he adds.

Spray Tan

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What to look for in a spray tanner to guarantee natural-looking results

“Word of mouth recommendation tends to be the best way of finding someone,” Harknett feels. “If you are researching online then first look for a tanning consultant with detailed reviews.”

Either way, you want someone who offers an initial consultation, “which covers the look you want to achieve and discusses any potential barriers to getting a perfect tan (such as skin conditions, medications or hormone-related issues)”. Here they should also share preparation and aftercare advice.

Avoid someone who says they can tan you in 10 minutes, adds Harknett, because “the tan will be rushed and not individually tailored”. Vitally, personalisation is key to natural results. “A good practitioner will know the strength and brand of tan to use on each person.”

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Then comes the technique. “Fine layering of the product on certain areas like the legs, for example, will contribute to a deeper and longer lasting glow,” he says. Also, for those new to spray tanning, there are certain ways a practitioner can ease the experince. “For instance, having a gentler glow on your face will help grow your confidence in spray tanning.”


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How to prepare for a spray tan to ensure the most natural results

Of course, a perfected spray tan is dictated by skin prep, as much as the tanning product being used and the therapist’s technique. As noted, a great spray tanner will advise you on preparation ahead of your appointment, but to be extra ready, heed Harknett’s advice:

  • “Remove any remnants of old self tan 24 hours before your appointment by taking a soak in the bath with a little oil. For any stubborn areas use a tan eraser,” like Skinny Tan’s Miracle Tan Eraser.
  • Any hair removal should be completed a minimum of 24 hours before a tan, or 48 hours if waxing. “This is because hair removal strips the dead skin cells, which is what the self tanner needs to make you golden brown.”
  • Exfoliation is still important, though. “Gently exfoliate dry patches the night before, using a grainy scrub rather than a chemical exfoliant.” Try the Three Warriors Tasmanian Sand Scrub.
  • On the day of the tan, keep the skin moisture-free. “Oils, lotions and moisturiser can create a barrier for the tan to cling evenly. This is the main cause of streaking, along with tan being applied to freshly shaved legs.”
  • “Wear loose, dark clothing to avoid mottling or streaking the colour after, and if possible go bra-less.”
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How to maintain your tan in the most natural-looking way

Long-lasting results come from maintaining the colour from your first rinse,” says Harknett. “Hot showers can naturally exfoliate our skin, thus breaking down the colour prematurely. Keep the water warm and then pat dry the skin to keep the glow intact for longer.” Once dry, avoid thick, sticky moisturisers. “Mist on a body moisture such as Neutrogena Deep Moisture Express Body Mist.”

Try and avoid tight clothing when you’re likely to sweat. “Keep your activewear loose and use a talc inside your sports bra, to create a shield between the tan and hot, sweaty fabrics.”

Finally, to extend the glow and disguise any imperfect fade-down, use a gradual tanner after a week. “Try a light layer of the organic Gradual Tan by Three Warriors. Easy to use, this will boost your glow, while locking in hydration.”

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