Tanning Bed Vs Spray Tan

If you are looking for ways to get a sunless tan, you are probably contemplating between a UV tan with a tanning bed and a spray tan.

To help you make a choice, we have put together this article on tanning bed vs spray tan. Continue reading to find a detailed comparison outlining the similarities and differences between these two sunless tanning options. 

Tanning Bed Vs Spray Tan – Overview 

What is tanning with a tanning bed? 

A tanning bed is a bed with a canopy that closes over the top. It has a series of 10 to 15 UV tanning bulbs on the inside. When you lay on the bed, the bulbs turn on and soak your body with UV light. Essentially, it imitates the tanning process you would get when you sit under the sun. 

The UV light prompts your skin’s melanocytes to produce more melanin, which is what darkens your skin. So, over a specific amount of time, your skin gradually turns golden bronze. 

Most tanning beds use UVA light. But there are some that use a combination of UVA light and UVB light. Only a few use just UVB light, and they are commonly referred to as “bronzing beds.” 

As with spray tanning, you can seek a tanning bed session by going to tanning salons, spas, or gyms that provide professional service or by purchasing a home tanning bed. 

Tanning beds are one of the common sunless tanning options.
Tanning beds are one of the common sunless tanning options.

Note: Tanning beds can also be referred to as sunbeds, and the experience can be called indoor tanning. 

What is spray tanning? 

Spray tanning is coating the skin with a tanning solution. The solution involves various chemicals that react with the cells in the skin to turn it into a tan color. 

Spray tanning is another sunless tanning option
Spray tanning is another sunless tanning option.

The coating procedure is done with a spray tanning machine or system. Usually, it includes a main body, constituting a turbine, a mist applicator, and a hose that dispenses the spray tanning solution as a mist.

You can go to a professional tanning salon or get a home spray tanning system to have this done. 

An example of before and after spray tanning.
An example of before and after spray tanning.

Tanning Bed Vs Spray Tan – Detailed Comparison



Before you tan using a tanning bed or a spray tan machine, you should prep your skin. 

  • Shave 

This is not a must. But if you do want to shave, you should do it before you go for your tanning session. Most people prefer to be hair-free and silky smooth. If you are one of these people, remember to shave at least 24 hours prior to getting the tan. Your hair follicles must be closed back up. Otherwise, you will get a speckled look. 

  • Shower 

You should shower before you head into the tanning session. Use a bath puff, loofah, or brush to slough off impurities. 

  • Cleanse & Exfoliate

You need to remove all the dirt, debris, and dust on your skin. Make sure you are completely clean and clear for the tanning application. 

  • Do Not Wear Perfume & Deodorant 

You should not wear perfume or deodorant when you go to the tanning session. 


There are after-care steps to take, regardless of whether you are getting a tan by a tan bed or spray tanning. 

  • Hydrate

Drinking lots of water rehydrates your skin. If your skin is lacking water, it will become dry, flaky, and tight, leading to other skin problems, such as aging. You should drink right after your tanning session and continue drinking throughout the day.

  • Moisturize

Moisturized skin is better than dry skin at maintaining a tan. Hence, you should apply a moisturizer after your first ‘post-tan’ shower, and make sure you use an oil-free and fragrance-free moisturizer. 

Baby oils, massage oils, and mineral oils can strip off your tan and lead to dark spots, streaks, and patches. A fragranced moisturizer will contain alcohol, which can strip your tan as well. 

Continue moisturizing daily to keep your skin hydrated and nourished. This way, you can maintain your bronzed glow. 

Notes: Avoid Abrasive Skincare Products

Abrasive skincare products, such as body wash, scrubs, and cleansers can slough away the tanned skin cells and cause fading. So, to preserve your tan, steer clear of these products. 


The tanning process 

When you tan via a tanning bed, you will lie down in the bed nude or in a bikini. There will be lamps or bulbs emitting artificial radiation to tan your skin. You will lie on the bed for 5 to 10 minutes; the exact duration depends on how deep your desired shade is. 

Spray tanning happens inside a tent-like structure. There, you will have to strip down to your underwear. A technician will apply a tanning solution all over your body with a spray gun. 

Waiting time before showering 

For regular tanning bed sessions, there is no wait time. You will only have to wait 2 hours after a tanning bed session with bronzers. But for spray tan sessions, you will have to wait 4 hours and 8 hours, respectively. 

Note: Bronzers can also be called accelerators. 

The tan you get after a tanning bed session is constructed by melanin, which is a natural skin pigment. It is not possible to wash off this natural pigment. So taking a shower after a regular tanning bed session will not compromise your tan. But if you used bronzers, it’s a different story — bronzers can be washed off. 

Spray tan sessions require a wait time because they do not involve UV exposure, which produces melanin. Instead, the tan is primarily done by bronzers and the DHA in them. If you shower right after a spray tan, the bronzers will go down the drain along with the water and soap. As a result, you will get an uneven and poor tan. 

How long a session lasts 

A tanning bed session can run from 5 to 10 minutes. The specific duration varies based on the skin type, but you will need to space your sessions out by weeks.

As for spray tans, a session for the full body takes around 15 minutes, but you will also need to allow time for the equipment to be set up. You just need one session to get a tan, and the recommended time before you get another session is 9 to 12 days. 

How long it takes for the tan to develop and show 

Tanning bed results usually show after 3 to 5 sessions and the sessions are about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your skin type. 

On the other hand, it will take approximately 8 to 12 hours for a traditional spray tan to develop, and 1 to 3 hours for an express spray tan. 

How long the tan lasts 

A UV tan by a tanning bed can stay for 7 days and up to 30 days. In comparison, a spray tan will typically last between 7 and 10 days.

So, if you want to go for a longer time before having to get a reapplication, then a UV tan will be the better choice. 

The degree of water resistance 

With a spray tan, you will have to wait for about 4 to 8 hours before you can hit the showers. This is because the tanning solution takes time to interact with the skin and give you a tan. Still, if you are exposed to water for too long afterward, your spray tan can fade.

On the other hand, your tan from a tanning bed will not fade when you come into contact with water. It is alright to show right after your tanning session to ease your skin. 

How natural your skin will look 

In some cases, a tanning bed can give you less natural results. If your skin is sensitive, for instance, it can redden in patches and peel off. Hence, your overall look will be unnatural. With a spray tan, you can more easily develop an even coverage, so your end results will be natural. 

Your control over the intensity of the color 

You can have more control with a tanning bed, as you build the color over a few sessions. When you spray tan, you develop the shade in just one session. So, you do not have as much control over the color that appears. It is more important for you to religiously follow directions to avoid orange patches. There is a higher risk of stained fingers and/or clothes, as well. 

The negative effects on the skin 

Dermatologists and cancer societies all over the world frown upon tanning beds. In fact, tanning beds are banned in Australia. In the UK and some U.S states, they are illegal for people under 18 years old. 

Spray tans are considered safer for the skin than tanning beds. This is because it does not include interactions with ultraviolet rays (both UVA & UVB rays), which can damage your skin cells, trigger premature wrinkling and aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer, etc. 

On the contrary, spray tanning only affects the top layer of the skin. The reaction of DHA with your dead skin cells can be removed with natural regeneration of your skin or scrubbed off when you exfoliate. 

If your skin is light, a tanning bed session might burn your skin. In addition, your skin might be exposed to bacteria and germs because you will use the same bed as other customers seeking a tan.  

The cost of a session 

Spray tan sessions tend to be slightly more expensive than tanning bed sessions. On average, a spray tan can cost $40. Tanning beds usually start from $18 and go up from there, depending on the shade you desire. Some people can spend up to $100 for a tanning bed session. Tanning beds are also costlier because you need to pay for every session and not just once like a spray tan. 

Tanning Bed Vs Spray Tan – Which Should I Get? 

Tanning bed vs Spray tan.
Tanning bed vs Spray tan.

You should opt for a UV tan with a tanning bed if:

  • You do not mind going for 3 to 5 sessions. 
  • You do not want to wait for a long time after tanning to shower. 
  • You want the tan to last for a long time, potentially up to 30 days. 
  • You do not mind the potentially negative effects on your skin. 
  • You are likely to expose yourself to water for an extended period.
  • You are not on a tight budget and do not mind spending more money. 

A spray tan would be more ideal if:

  • You want to get a tan after just one session. 
  • You can wait for a few hours before showering after tanning. 
  • You do not mind that the tan may only last between 7 and 10 days. 
  • You are unlikely to expose yourself to water for an extended period.
  • You do not want to suffer from any negative skin consequences. 
  • You are on a tight budget and are not willing to spend more money. 


Now, you know the detailed similarities and differences of tanning bed vs spray tan. Hopefully, after reading this, you can make an informed decision on one of the sunless tanning options. Let us know which you decide on in the comments down below. We (and other readers) would love to hear from you! 


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