A tanning treatment colours your skin so that it looks as though you have been evenly basted in the sun and have a "healthy" tan. An application of fake tan in a spa will usually take the form of a spray tan in a booth or tent, or an application of a lotion or cream by hand.
What are tanning treatments good for?
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 healthier way to tan than planting yourself in the sun for hours at a time.
Many of us feel an urge to sit and bask in the sun when we see it, especially in the UK! The sun and its ultraviolet (UV) rays can be good for us: the light and warmth can make us feel relaxed and sensual, and 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.
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. 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.
What to expect from a tanning treatment
Self-tanning creams, oils, sprays and lotions are a safer way to achieve an even tan. Many spas offer tanning treatments from professional brands such as Fake Bake, St Tropez, Sienna-X and Xen-Tan. As a spa treatment, the self-tanner is applied as a spray, or is smoothed over your skin by hand. Either way, your tanning treatment will take place in the privacy of a treatment room. Your therapist will give you a choice of shades, so you can choose a colour that suits your skin tone.
To help your faux tan look even, prepare your skin the day before your treatment. Shave or wax at least 24 hours before, exfoliate thoroughly, and apply moisturiser to hydrate your skin. Do not shave or apply products such as moisturiser and deodorant on the day of your treatment. As self-tanner stains, it is a good idea to paint your nails, too.
Your therapist will explain what you should wear for your treatment, but generally, you will be given a choice between wearing your own swimwear or underwear, disposable paper knickers, or nothing at all. Remember that if you don't dare to bare, you'll be left with some white bits! It is sensible to opt for the disposable underwear provided, as these offer minimal coverage, and you won't be left with tan stains on your own clothes. It is a good idea to wear dark clothes to put on after your treatment, too.
An application of self-tanner is similar to the process you may follow at home, except that your therapist will be trained to apply the right amount of product evenly over your entire body, including the hard-to-reach parts! Plus, it means you won't have to clear up any mess afterwards. Most self-tanning products contain a colourant to give you an instant glow, and so you can see it has been applied evenly. The colour will also develop and get gradually darker over the next few hours.
Spray/air tanning is available in both spas and high-street salons. Spray tans take place in a plastic "pod" or a tall fabric tent, to prevent the tanner spraying around the room. You enter the pod and stand on the "x" that is marked on the floor. Your therapist will warn you when she is about to start, and will advise you on how to stand, and when to turn around. She will then spray a light covering of the self-tanner onto your skin, building the colour gradually to your chosen shade. The whole process takes only 10 to 15 minutes.
There are also automatic spray-tan booths. In front of you will be a number of nozzles, and once you hit the button, 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, and you'll get instructions on how to achieve this.
Different kinds of tanning treatment
You can also buy self-tanning products to use at home. If you do decide to apply self-tanner at home, remember that you're applying dye. All tanning products come with instructions, and some even come with equipment including wipes and gloves. Keep the dye away from clothing and allow plenty of time for the tan to develop. Use sparingly the first time around; you can always use the product again for a deeper tan, once you're more confident of the procedure.
A sunless tan can also be achieved by using sunbeds and tanning booths, though these are a rarity in spas nowadays. Sunbeds and stand-up tanning booths tan the body with ultraviolet light. A sunbed session usually lasts for a few minutes at first, and you build up by degrees depending on your original skin colour and type. This is a real tan. The UV light has the same effect on your skin as the sun, albeit in measured doses.
Exfoliate thoroughly to get rid of all your dead and rough skin so that you have a chance of an even skin-colour. Have a thorough shower after exfoliating, to make sure that you've got rid of all the bits of apricot stone or other purifying grit! 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. These treatments are also a real treat in themselves; try a salt and oil scrub or a mud or algae wrap.