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Before you bronze, read this glow-getter guide

While a killer pair of heels helps, sometimes the perfect accessory is a healthy sun-kissed glow. Adding a little warmth to your usual milky, sun-protected skin can do wonders for your outfit—and for your confidence. Even if you’re an at-home self-tanning aficionado, certain times call for a professional airbrush tan. This is especially the case if it’s for a special event, like a wedding, and you need it to be perfect. But, if you’re a faux glow newbie, we get that going in for your first spray tan can be intimidating. To ease your nerves, we talked with tanning expert Jena Mehlberg, owner of Sun Cheaters Tanning and Waxing, about what to expect and how to make that golden tint last.

1. Do Your Research

First, it’s important to understand the difference between a tanning booth and a technician. A booth sprays your body with tanning solution, with minimal direction or control, while a technician tailors the tan to your needs, taking things like skin tone or uneven tan lines into account. “Spray tanning by hand gives you more color control and coverage as well as customization,” explains Mehlberg of why you should opt for a technician. “It’s a nicer, less stressful experience and allows you to ask questions, go over color combinations, and be guided through the whole process.” Before picking a salon, make sure to ask around and read reviews to ensure clients are happy with the results.

2. Pick a “Glow” Goal

It’s a misconception that only fairer complexions can enjoy the benefits of a spray tan. “It’s literally for everyone,” says Mehlberg. “Airbrush tanning is the absolute best way to cover stretch marks, even out skin tone, and cover all those lovely imperfections such as cellulite. It also can be used to contour your body, which is why so many celebrities, models and fitness competitors use them.” It’s crucial to talk with you technician about what you hope to accomplish with the tan along with how deep you want your bronze to be.

3. Groom Beforehand

“Think of your skin as a canvas and the tanning solution as paint. To have the best results, you need to start with a blank slate,” says Mehlberg. Prepare by shaving (at least twenty-four hours prior to avoid the tanning solution from getting into pores and irritating skin) and exfoliating with a mitt or an oil-free scrub. Book that mani and pedi beforehand as well. Then, on the day of the appointment, avoid applying any lotions or oil to skin since it can create a barrier, leading to uneven color.

4. Avoid Tan Wreckers

Once you’ve been airbrushed, it’s normal to look abnormally dark for a few hours. This is the bronzer that’s mixed in with the DHA (the main ingredient that gets you tan). To avoid disrupting your new hue, put on loose-fitting, black clothes for the rest of the day. Also, it’s important to avoid water: “Water is the enemy,” says Mehlberg. “Although most people know that you can’t get wet after a spray tan, clients often forget this means no sweating, washing dishes or laundry, nor splashing water on your face after brushing your teeth and so many other little things you wouldn’t realize until—oops—you’re wet.” If you do happen to get water on you, try to pat (not rub) it off.

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5. Be Patient—Then Shower

Typical spray tans need to be left on for eight to ten hours before you shower. Try to gently wash it off and avoid hard scrubbing for the duration of your tan since this can cause it to prematurely fade. If your salon offers a “rapid tan” solution, then it only needs two to four hours to develop before rinsing.

6. Maintain Your Bronze

With proper maintenance, you can be glowing for seven to ten days after your treatment. “Maintain the tan with lotions infused with DHA (like Norvell’s Color Extender) or water-based body washes,” says Mehlberg. Hydration is crucial—just avoid anything alcohol or oil-based since it can drying on skin, leading to uneven color.