The Perfect Tan Formula: Adding the Service Successfully


Airbrush tan has come a long way for both consumers and businesses since the days of “I won’t be orange, will I?” Advancements in formulations as well as skin cancer prevention information becoming more widespread has made offering the service an invaluable tool to spa/salon owners. Tanning beds are now considered more carcinogenic than cigarettes, and with skin cancer deaths on the rise, airbrush tanning sells itself.

Incorporating an airbrush tan into your business has some great start-up aspects. The cost is relatively low, you don’t need a lot of space, training is simple, and your work is an instant gratification advertisement to generate clientele.

All sounds easy, right? However, just like with opening your esthetic or spa business, there is a formula to be followed for success. It’s not something you want to approach as an “anyone can do it” venture.

The Product

All airbrush tan companies have come a long way. When looking for an airbrush tan company, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Before you start your search, decide if a natural or synthetic spray tanning solution fits your company’s mission better. See if they offer a range of tanning solutions, as your clients have a variety of skin tones. Can you customize the solution for each skin tone? Also, find out if they have express solutions.

Tanning solutions often are accompanied by a scent, so you may want to ask your manufacturer how they handle or mask the scent. Try a sample to see if you like it, and make sure you check out their equipment in person. Finally, don’t forget to ask if there are any contraindications to their tanning solutions.

The Set-up

The start-up cost can be as low as $500 and can be performed in a space as small as a bathroom or as a mobile option. When you’ve determined the space you’d like to use, paint the room brown. For flooring, anything that is easy to clean is best. I have provided this service on hardwood, wood laminate and foam mat flooring. Have minimal décor in the room, as it will get covered in solution.

Have large towels to set on the floor for the client to stand on, and plan to clean the floor immediately after each client. If not, the overspray will cause damage to the flooring, or worse, orange soles.

If the room is big enough, have clients put their clothing on a bench on the opposite side of the room. For a smaller room, use an ottoman with a removable top. For a backdrop, it is okay to use the wall if it is washable, a curtain backdrop or a tent.

Ventilation is necessary, and the filters must be changed often. A fan is great to have, even with self-drying solutions. Allow the client to dry for a minute before they change.

Be sure to have good lighting in the room to see exactly what you’ve covered during the service.

It is important to not have any mirrors in the room. Most clients are already mustering all the courage they have to let you tan their bodies with minimal clothing, so a mirror in the room is not the best idea. Let your clients see their beautiful tan in a mirror on the way out of your spa.

The Technician

Any of your staff can be trained to do airbrush tan, including your receptionists, but the key is to not let just anyone and everyone do it. The right technician will be personable, efficient, have excellent attention to detail and exude the utmost professionalism. Your technician should instinctively know that it would never be okay to make comments regarding weight, tattoos or any other standout marks on their clients. Booking an airbrush tan can be intimidating for a client and leave him or her feeling vulnerable. Portraying that “I’m looking but not looking” comforting vibe is imperative!

The Marketing

This is a great service to use for a referral program. Offer a bring-your-friend discount and a treat coupon for a second tan, which expires 10 days after their visit. Encourage clients to post before-and-after pictures of their results—their friends will follow.

You want to make sure everyone promoting the service at your business has a perfect tan, so never have technicians practice on an employee. Instead have them practice on family members in the winter or with a wash-off solution.


Upon booking the service, make sure the client is informed to come in lotion free, exfoliated and in dark, loose-fitting clothing. Clients should fill out an intake form. Always make sure of their knowledge and expectations before you begin.

For new clients, start with a lighter tan and let them know we can always go darker next time. I tell my female clients, “You can wear or not wear whatever you want. It doesn’t matter to me.” However, make sure they remove all jewelry. If they seem nervous, I assure them that 90% of my clientele is topless or nude and that the process only takes a few minutes to do all the time. I do ask my male clients to leave on an undergarment.

Leave them to change with a shower cap for their hair and barrier cream instructed for the palms of their hands and bottoms of their feet only. When you come in to spray them, bring a wet towel for them to wipe their hands and bottoms of their feet at the end. For new clients and brides, I will personally wipe their hands, getting the palms diligently, the sides of their hands and a light swipe of the back of their hand before dropping it on the floor for them to get the bottoms of their feet.

Your manufacturer may offer specially formulated shower gels and lotions for home care, which you can recommend at check-out to extend the longevity of their tan. Give them a print out of everything you went over in the room regarding the next steps of taking care of their tan. The most important thing to make your client understand is to not get wet during developing time, which includes hand washing, the gym, getting other salon services, rainfall, etc.


Always make a note in your software of the solution you did on your client as well as the event he or she has coming up. I also use a code to indicate if clients tan nude. Then, if they call and feel they are “not tan,” I can remind them that they chose not to use a sticker (provided) or wear something as a tan reference. Note if they do anything against your advisory, like if they came in wearing tight jeans or say they are going to yoga after. Taking these steps saves you from potential re-dos later. You should never have to eat the cost of your service. If you provide disclaimers, and if the client and technician are well informed, you should have no issues.

The Technique

Step 1. Have the client face you with arms out and palms to the floor. Use a motion across the arms and up and down the torso. Repeat with palms to the ceiling and palms to the back wall. Have them lift their arms in the shape of a Y and turn one leg out to the side. Spray the arms and torso, moving down to the legs, which are sprayed evenly a couple of times then repeated with the legs switched.

Step 2. Spray each side with the arm up, palm facing them, going down the body twice evenly. Have clients lower their arm to the side and hit the shoulder with a sweeping motion down to the wrist. Always pull away at the hand, never spraying directly on the hands or feet. The overspray is enough to get them color.

Step 3. Have clients face the back with palms to the floor and get one coat across the arms and two to three over the back and legs.

Step 4. Finish with clients facing the front. As
they turn, watch their legs to make sure there are no white patches.

Step 5. Adjust the shower cap to ensure nothing is covering the forehead and the ears out. Ask clients to take a breath and tilt their head back slightly. Spray the face once, then allow them to breath after announcing you are only spraying air before repeating a second time.

The Price

I’ve seen airbrush tans priced anywhere from $25–$50 per application. The price usually varies based on the cost of solution, the skill of your technician and if you offer mobile services. The most I’ve charged is $39 for an 8-hour solution, $45 for express and $28 for half body. It is important to make sure your price covers your cost. A bottle of tan can cost as much as $80. When you offer disposables, nose plugs, shower caps and barrier cream, that increases the cost per tan.

A Service for Everyone

Performing airbrush tan will increase spa/salon profits as well as technician income. In 2016, airbrush tan made up $21,000 of my service sales. Prom season tends to be the most lucrative time, as it accounts for weddings and the time of year when people covet that sun-kissed color. You’ll be surprised to learn that 72% of my spray tan clientele is over 35 years old, and 17% are men. Proving this service is for everyone.

For new clients, start with a lighter tan—you can always go darker next time.

Si Author E Lauren 300

Erika Lauren is a licensed esthetician and airbrush tan specialist of 10 years. She’s also an active member in the spa industry as a writer and trainer. Contact her at [email protected].

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