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What is a tanning treatment?

A tanning treatment will turn your skin golden brown in a fraction of the time that it would take you to do it naturally. It is also, broadly speaking, a lot healthier way to do it than planting yourself in the sun for hours at a time.

There are various kinds of tanning treatment but their aim is the same: to make you look as though you have been sunbathing, evenly, without burning, peeling, strap marks or melanomas... always a bonus!

What is a tanning treatment good for?

Most of us feel an urge to sit and bask in the sun in the summer, especially in this country!

The sun and its Ultra Violet (UV) rays can be really good for us: the light and warmth can make us feel relaxed and sensual; it can increase the release of endorphins, leaving us with a natural "high"; UV rays also help our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones and healing scar tissue; it also helps improve blood flow.

But there's a difference between the sun and tanning.

Sun can be good; tanning in the sun is less good. If you lie out tanning in the sun, you're vulnerable to burns and skin cancer. Getting a natural tan these days is a risk. Yet, despite repeated attempts by doctors and the fashion industry to bring in bone-white-skin chic, we still tend to think that everyone looks better with a tan. Why?

Maybe it's because of its associations:

  • People who work outside often get a tan so we associate it with healthy, active, outdoor living
  • A tan is the last remnant of your holiday, a notice board that says you've just come back from a fabulous holiday and you're relaxed and rejuvenated
  • A tan is a designer label for your body - "Lifestyle!" - that says you can afford to relax and rejuvenate and go on holidays.

For all these reasons, a tanning treatment may make you look better, but it will certainly make you feel as though you look better!

Tanning treatments enable you to enjoy the sun safely, as you can go out and wear as much protection as you want and need without trying to change your skin colour.

What to expect from a tanning treatment

Tanning treatments vary, so what you can expect varies as well. There tend to be three kinds available: sunbeds and solariums; branded lotions; or air sprays.

Sunbed / solarium

Sunbeds are tables with a pull-down overhanging lid that tan the body with special Ultraviolet lights. Solariums are "pod", often "walk-in" versions of the same thing.

Sunbeds and solariums became incredibly popular in the 1980s and people with a little extra cash often installed a catalogue-bought sunbed in their own home. Like thigh-masters and sandwich toasters, these may long since have become part of the garage or spare-room work surface. Sunbeds represented an accessible way to make a lifestyle statement; you could be tanned all year round: "Look at me, I am outdoors-y and go on foreign holidays!" It put you in a bracket with characters from Dallas and Dynasty who were perma-tanned all year round. It made you feel more glamorous. The problem was that sunbeds were not always safe, and even public facilities were not regulated, and people used them for long periods at a time suffering burns.

Years later, sunbeds and solariums are still popular and effective. They are also much safer, and the use of them is subject to stricter regulation.

A sunbed session usually lasts for about 20-30 minutes and is done by degrees depending on your existing skin colour and type. People usually get them in a series of 4 or 6 so that they can develop a tan gradually.

As an experience, it can feel really luxurious and relaxing. This is a real tan. It has the same effect on your skin as the sun, albeit in very measured doses.

Branded creams, oils, sprays and lotions

A safer way to achieve an even tan is to use some of the many self-tanning lotions and creams now on the market. It can be quite confusing to know which to use. We would recommend you pay a bit more and go for a respected brand if you are going to give yourself the treatment. Cheap brands are more likely to be that special tone of orange that makes people look so weird and ridiculous!

All these products come with instructions these days, and some, like St Tropez, even come with equipment like wipes and gloves.

Just remember you're applying dye. You need to keep it away from clothing and allow plenty of time for it to develop.

At home

Here are a few of our Top Tips for tanning at home.

  • Exfoliate thoroughly before you start; get rid of all your dead and rough skin so that you have a chance at an even skin-colour
  • Have a good shower after you've exfoliated, to make sure that you've got rid of all the bits of apricot stone or other purifying grit!
  • Make sure you're thoroughly dry before applying the cream
  • Take off all your jewellery and clothes before you start applying the cream - this will avoid bangle marks and the paint-effect you will achieve from trying to take off your pants after you've applied the dye
  • Use sparingly the first time around - you can always use it again for a deeper tan, once you're more confident of the procedure
  • Think about having a friend around to avoid having a lozenge-shaped white flash across your back where you couldn't reach!
  • Allow plenty of time for the lotion to soak in and dry - don't make the mistake of sitting or lying down as you might stain the furniture and imprint it on your body at the same time... not a good look really

At a salon

A good option these days is to book a salon tanning treatment - these are getting cheaper all the time. The Body Shop is just one of the high-street options for you if you want to have the lotions properly applied by someone else. They're relatively cheap and if you do end up looking orange, patchy or smeared, at least you can get your money back!

If you're going to a spa, tagging a tanning treatment on to your list of treats will ensure you leave looking as glowing and gorgeous as - hopefully - you will feel.

Spray / air tanning

Fans of this method include Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and Cat Deeley.

This is a quick and easy way to have your favourite brand of fake-tanning product distributed evenly across your whole body, and is available on the high street.

You should be shown to a changing room to get undressed.

The product is applied in one of two ways. In some places, a "tanning specialist" will spray your body with an air-spray from a weedkiller-like gun or bottle. S/he will tell you when to turn, when to lift up your arms and so on, to ensure an even tan. This is potentially a bit embarrassing, depending on how "all-over" you want your tan to be, but is effective.

The alternative is to enter a plastic "pod-thing" and stand on the "x" that is clearly marked on the floor. In front of you will be a number of nozzles, and once you hit the button to your side you will have ten seconds to get into position and close your eyes. Being in the right position ensures that you get an even tan, so before you go into the pod either your therapist will give you instructions on how to stand, or s/he will show you a short video with all of the information you need. The nozzles will then move up and down several times spraying the entire front of your body with fake tan. It just feels like moist air being shot at you, but it can be a little cold so brace yourself! The nozzles will then stop and you will have another ten seconds or so to turn around and get into the correct position again so that your back can be sprayed, too.

When you leave the booth, you will need to rub off all of the excess spray from your body with the towels provided, just like you would water after a shower. Don't worry, you can't rub the tan off. It's designed so that once the tan hits the skin it stays there.

You will be pleased to notice a slight change in your skin colour as soon as you leave the pod, but it will develop into a much stronger caramel shade over the next four to six hours.As with any treatment, you should always disclose any medical conditions, especially allergies before you go.

Before you go

  • You'll get the most even tan if you exfoliate thoroughly beforehand. Have a good bath or shower and exfoliate with a lotion or bubblebath. Use a loofah or body-massage sponge to slough off any dead skin.
  • Many spas offer pre-tanning treatments so that your skin is in the best condition to tan easily and evenly. These treatments are also likely to mean your tan will last longer. They are also a real treat in themselves; try a salt and oil scrub or a mud or algae wrap.
  • Take off all your make up before you go in, as well as anything that will leave a mark, such as jewellery, or your watch.
  • What you wear depends to a certain extent on what treatment you're having. Just bear in mind that treatments involving lotions and potions often take a while to dry completely and may stain your clothes for a while afterwards. Call ahead to see if there are any special recommendations. This will also give you a chance to see how much time to allow for the treatment.


Most tanning treatments develop gradually: you will look more tanned when you leave the salon or spa than you did when you went in, but it's likely the tan will get darker during the day. Wait a while before you put on make up.

Just be aware that some lotions and sprays take a few hours to dry completely and may stain your clothes, so don't wear your best outfit immediately afterwards.

After a solarium, you may find that your skin feels a bit sore or tender, as you might coming in from the sun. This should wear off quickly.

Courtesy of the Good Spa Guide

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