Some reviewers say the easiest way to get the most even-looking sunless tan is at a professional spa or tanning salon. Users say it's the only way to ensure that all hard-to-reach areas are covered. Resulting color is more consistent, and drying times are quick (typically 5 to 10 minutes).
Professional spray tans are available in two forms: airbrush and booth-spray tans. An airbrush tan is applied by a professional technician, who uses a handheld sprayer to apply tanning solution evenly over the body. Booth spray tans, on the other hand, are automated. Consumers step into a booth where tanning solution is sprayed over their entire body by a shower jet.
Mystic Tan UV-Free Spray-On Tanning (*Est $25 per session) is the most popular booth tan we found reviewed. Mystic Tan is a branded line of booths and spray tanning formula that can be found across much of the U.S. Note: Although a handful of companies offer their own version of booth spray tanning, we didn't find any reviews for them, and they all work in virtually the same manner as Mystic Tan.
Though not as widespread, airbrush tanning (Est. $50 to $100) is the most popular competitor to Mystic Tan, according to user reviews. During an airbrush tan, individuals are sprayed by a technician and can even opt to enhance the appearance of their muscles and abs with an airbrushed tan.
Overall, Mystic Tan and airbrush tanning are very similar, with one key difference being that Mystic Tan offers more privacy, and an airbrush tan sacrifices privacy in favor of hand-sprayed, flawless application. The other big differentiating factor is the enclosed booth. Some users at MakeupAlley.com complain that it's hard to breathe while being sprayed in a Mystic Tanning booth because it's enclosed. Others find the entire experience of being misted in an enclosed space uncomfortable. During an airbrush tan, on the other hand, you stand with a technician in a normal room, allowing for a bit more breathing room -- literally.
As with any other tanning product, there are plenty of horror stories from users who end up with the wrong shade, splotchy or streaked tinting. Reviewers say poor results are usually caused by not following the directions. For example, users must wipe excess solution off with a towel immediately after their spraying session and use the provided barrier cream to keep certain areas (like elbows, knees, and soles of feet) from getting too dark, before tanning.
There are also complaints that spray tans can be very cold when applied and feel a bit sticky after drying. The newest Mystic Tan booths incorporate heaters to help alleviate the cold and speed up drying time. Finally, there are complaints about the self-tanner odor caused by all types of spray tans. This typically fades after the tan fully develops over about six hours.
Despite the downsides, many reviewers say professional spray tanning is the only way to get even, reliable results, and Mystic Tan UV-Free Spray-On Tanning is the most popular option. It's seamless, quick, and easy, reviewers say. However, according to the reviews we found, self-applied lotions and gels oftentimes providing comparable results without the inconveniences of a spray tanning. Plus, there simply aren't as many reliable, neutral reviews for competing professional spray tans.
As such, we have not named a Best Reviewed professional spray tan. If you want to try out a spray tan, Mystic Tan is probably your best bet because of its easy application, good even color and its potential value in the category.