Many people become overwhelmed and confused about spray tanning and how it should be used in relation to cool or warm skin tones or undertones in the skin.
A common assumption is that you must:
- A) exactly match the sunless tan color product to the clients skin tone in relation to warmth or coolness
- B) OR the reverse, you must use the opposite, adding a cool product to warm up the clients skin and warm toned product to a cool skin tone to “correct” the skin tone coloration.
With such conflicting information It is easy to understand why may new techs to the industry become very overwhelmed quickly. Its also frustrating trying to decide what products to use.
Lets start with Skin Color Tones, (undertones) what is this exactly?
All people, whether they are light or darkly pigmented have more, or less warm pigmentation tones within the skin, hair, and eyes. This can classify the persons coloring as “Warm” “Cool” or “Neutral”. I have read some information that the very fair or fair Caucasian skintypes in the USA (skin 1 and 2) tend to be predominantly more cooler toned due to genetic heritage, but not ALL pale skinned clients are cool. Some are neutral or warm. These numbers can differ a bit depending on your Geographic location.
Undertones can influence overall appearance when choosing clothing items, makeup products, and hair colorants for example, as some tones will be more complimentary overall, making the eyes appear brighter and more alive, the skin looks more glowing and vibrant, client looks well rested and alert etc. Incorrect pairing of tones can make one appear sallow, washed out, or even ill or fatigued.
Many things can alter, or even “mask” the appearance of your actual skin tone, room lighting type, amount of light, skin health, UV damage/Tanning Bed use, skin moisture level and how it reflects lighting color, thickness of your skin, cloud cover vs direct sunlight, color temperature of florescent lights or incandescent lights used when viewing the skin etc.
Their are many websites, and colorist professionals who will delve into this in much more detail, even placing clients into specific “Seasons”. This is beyond the capacity of whats needed for this article, but if you would like more information Google will provide many sites to explore this further.
What are the “tones”?
Your skin (hair and eyes) are a mixture of pigment colors. Skin pigment comes in reds, yellows, oranges, blacks and browns. They can be warm or cool variety of these, Most people are a mixture of the above colors. So we are all “multicolored” !
However if you are predominantly one shading you would be called, cool or warm undertoned. Or if you are a fairly equal mix (very common in many Caucasians) you are neutral undertone.
- Cool Tones (pink, red or bluish undertones) -Blue or Pink skin undertones. Eyes are blue violet or grey. Hair is blond or brunette. Highlights are a cool or white blond. veins tend to be blue
- Warm (yellow, peachy, golden undertones) – They have warm undertones, of yellow or orange. They have darker eyes of brown, green, hazel, sometimes with gold flecks of color. Hair is often brunette, red or blond. Natural highlights are golden. veins tend to be green
- Neutral (a mix of cool and warm tones) – light undertones of pink, olive or yellow. Eyes and hair can be any color. This is the most common skin tone. Veins can be both blue and green
When purchasing facial foundations, the correct tone can help the foundation blend into your natural skin more evenly. Correctly toned lipstick will flatter your skin, incorrect lipstick and blush may make you look dull or washed out. Correctly toned eye show can make the eye color appear more sparkly and vibrant.
How to tell what Undertone I am?
There are many “tests” to help judge you specific undertones. I have listed a few below, with links to others. Using more then one option is recommended, as results of one test can be inconclusive. Especially if you are neutral toned . Many people are, including myself.
Two examples I use are looking at Eye color, (not just color of the iris, but also the flecks/specks of colors within the iris) look at blood veins, and look at Nipple and or lip color if visible.
- If your skin appears yellowish or sallow beside the white paper, you have a warm skin tone.
- If your skin appears pink, rosy, or blueish-red, then you have a cool skin tone.
- If your skin appears gray, your skin probably has an olive complexion with a neutral undertone.
Want to see what tone you are? Check out the link below
How important is this when applying a Spray Tan?
This is where I differ from many in the industry. I don’t think it matters nearly as much as many people think. I have been in this industry for 25 plus years. I have seen many sunless tans, and many sunless products. I don’t think the undertone matching concern, in sunless products, is as important, as some others may feel.
A sunless tan is made up from the Self Tanning Cosmetic ingredient Dihyldroxacitone or DHA. This is the ingredient that produces the sunless tan color on the skin surface that lasts for 5-7 days or so.
DHA is Golden yellow brown in tone. It is not cool or neutral normally. DHA source or “purity” or solution pH etc will not change DHA’s color, it is predominantly a golden or “warm” brown skin colorant. (it will tint the skin in a sheer wash of color) That’s the color it will produce, based on the chemical reaction used by the skin to cause the Sunless Tan tint. On some clients this may look more or less golden, due to their skin chemistry, skins general makeup, light refraction, skin thickness, and pigment, but it is still warmish brown.
Some ingredients (not just the bronzer) can be added to a finished spray solution, to help fine tune how the chemical reaction appears, and even fine tune the tonality. But DHA, itself, is a warm brown colorant.DHA IS the basis of the sunless tan color or tone.
One popular means to fine tune the color of the final tan is with visible color-guide on the skin, or the added bronzer colors. Each company has their own bronzer mixtures that best projects the color tones they prefer for their finished products.
Bronzer colorants can be added to any solution to help “tweak” the DHA tone, to make it cooler, more neutral etc. This is what someone means when they say their product is “Green Based” “Red Based” “Violet Based” etc. They are referring to the bronzer colorant additive that can also temporarily stain the skin (along with the DHA) and how it changes the sunless tan final appearance. Tampa Bay Tan Blends are, in general , a neutral based line.
Bronzer colors will wash off in the shower, leaving the final DHA based tan behind. It may wash off fully in the first shower, or some may “stick” to the skin, and wear away slowly over 3 to 5 or so days, leaving some color behind. This extra color will gradually lighten as the bronzer color fades off. leaving the actual (warm toned) DHA Tan color behind.
A Heavy very dark bronzer product normally will stain the skin more then a sheer or lighter bronzer product. Think of how a Kool-Aide Popsicle can stain your lips and tongue when consumed, and you can see the concept at work in real life. Also note how it usually only lasts a few days roughly. (or less)
Keep in mind product thickness (as applied to the skin), skin porosity, skin oilyness etc. will all effect how the bronzer absorbs into the skin.
This wear/fade is controlled by the client. Their skin porosity, how dry or oily their skin is, how often they are sweating, lifestyle habits, body care products used to cleanse, prep and maintain the tanned skin – will all impact the way the bronzer absorbs and how it wears off. This will affect tan color tone or appearance, both on a fresh and an aged tan
There is sadly no real correct “Rule” or Standard guide, to perfectly match a product to best accentuate a specific skin tone consistently:
A Technician has little control over the unique client attributes that will affect final tan color tone, and the solution itself has a limited control. Unlike facial foundation or make-up cosmetics, which have an opaque finish which can cover, or block the visible skin tones beneath; a sunless tan is a sheer, and transparent/translucent finish layer. This allows the skins actual color and tones to mingle with, and appear THROUGH the sunless tan. Creating a unique color from the mixture. It’s a bit hard to say what this final mix will appear as, without trying the product on the client.
As noted above DHA is warm toned. Other colors are due to bronzer additives. It would be difficult for the Technician to confidently state “this product is the best for Cool skin or Warm skin….”, as really all you are altering is the temporary color of the surface tan, that appears on the first day, or few days, or so – then the client is down to the actual DHA based tan, which is a warmer tan in tone. And the DHA color is directly controlled by the chemical reaction in “that” clients skin, their chemistry, genetics, how all the colors meld, etc. (something the technician has very little control over).
Yes, you can speculate about this, and try to plan the best product to use based on the cool vs warm spectrum. But there are so many factors that would be involved, that are not really well documented, in a well thought out standardized manner. You could make yourself a bit batty, trying to account for all the variables, and factors you are not aware of, and still be right back to the same starting place which is. my “Best Professional Guess” for you is “this” product. Which really comes back to your experience as a technician, and your familiarity with your specific products which you use regularly, and your”guess” for each client, based on limited information.
There is really no exact chart, or formula, or product, that guarantees the “right” final “target color tone” every time. Instead, you may need to try a few different products, and fine tune down, to get closer to the result you (and your client) are aiming for. And that’s more trial and error, then anything else.
I have spoken to some users, who use lines with a Specific “Color Tone” formula. These are lines that you must match to your clients undertones. I have been told by more then one person, after applying the differing products to different volunteers, with different undertones, that when the tans were all washed off – they looked the same/similar, with slight or no variations in final tan “color tone”.
Obviously this can vary from client to client, based on their unique skin. But I think it does illustrate, that the overall impact of NEEDING to “color- match” the product tone to the clients undertones. It certainly can be helpful, and beneficial in some situations. Especially for a client that has a strong color tone, that is coming through consistently on any tanning solution used (very golden or very ruddy/red for example). And it certainly creates a challenge that the technician can try to address to assist the client to have a tan they are more content with.
But I do not think it is required to obtain a beautiful spray tan both the technician and the client will love.
However, if you are a Technician that likes this approach of matching solution tones to client color-tones, and it works well for your and your clients – by all means. Go for it, and have fun. Spray Tanning should be fun for you and your clients. And everyone should use the approach that best suits their business model, and helps you succeed.
But don’t think this is a “Must Do” and that you cannot have amazing results using alternative approaches. I know many Techs who only use ONE BLEND, at one or two DHA Levels on all their clients, and have stellar results, again and again and again. Reviewing the images on our FaceBook and Instagram pages are a perfect example.
Does this mean color toned Solution are useless?
No, this means, don’t make yourself crazy over their overall impact on the big picture. For most clients, the difference is not as large as you might think. A well formulated product, applied correctly, will product a beautiful spraytan. One that makes the client feel confidant when they walk out the door and ready to face their world, feeling their best.
The first concern you as a technician should have is matching the DHA level correctly to your client for their skin depth (pigment level) type and needs. This will lessen or eliminate many problems clients have with sunless tanning; poor, rapid or uneven fading, orange or brassy tones, dry or itchy skin.
After matching the DHA range for your client, use the appropriate product type for your location and environment, and clients skin needs. This would be a Quick Dry blend vs a Moisturizing blend. This will narrow down the products that will best suit you and your client.
After this point you can fine-tune, if you prefer, between different products that meet the above needs, but may have added attributes you want to incorporate (Anti-aging, Slow Fading, skin feel and texture).
Color Correcting, when it can be useful:
If you do have a client that is having yellow or brassy tans all the time – then a Violet Toned product will be an option. Just keep in mind the limits of this product, as your Violet tone layer (which will neutralize yellow, brassy, orangy and reddish tone in the skin) is from the colored bronzer. So as this fades, its effects will lessen. The tan appearance will change in tones. This can take 1-2 days, or 5-7 – depending on your client. It can look ashy on some clients, especially someone who is warmer toned.
Green toned products should not be need to counter orange tones, because if you are consistently getting orange tones the DHA level is to high on your client. That’s the first indication the DHA level is to high. Lowering the DHA level will take away the orange tones in most cases – so a color correcting green base solution is not needed. Just because a person has “Olive” or cool skin does not mean they need an Olive or green based product.
Red Toned products are for warming up a tan. But DHA is a Warm skin colorant. Unless you are looking for more of a “sunburn” look, this would not be needed in most cases. However if you DO want a rosy or sunburn effect, under the brown tone, then you can use a strong red based product to produce this – until the bronzer colorant fades. Applying a red toned product to a rosy client can in some case make them look “to red” for few days, where they actually look flushed.
A UV based tan is NOT one color.
Yes it is “brown” but not one shade or tone of brown. UV tans – which one tries to mimic with a sunless tan – is the color of “brown” unique to that persons pigmentation. This can be predominantly red, gold, yellow, cool, violet, blue even grayish. These are all “normal” UV tan colors. And all look “tanned” None is “correct” or the “right” color. The right tan color is the color that persons skin produces based on “their” bodies pigment type, pigment color mixture, saturation and skin tones.
A sunless tan cannot exactly duplicate a clients exact tone or color of their UV Based tan, because it does not use UV or skin pigment to product the color . But it can still be a beautiful “tan” just a slightly different tan. But no less attractive for it. It may not be their “exact” shade of UV tan – but it IS a UV Tan shade.
I think we need to step away from the ideal of “Perfection”, as every person will have their own concept of what that means to them. Rather, lets adjust to looking and being beautiful in your own skin, and embrace what is unique and special about you. If your tan is not exactly the same color as the current Hot Instagram Celebrity, (who also use body makeup and photo editing on all appearances and publicity shots), or your friend who goes to tanning beds 3-4 times a week – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Its just “your” tan is unique to you. Embrace what makes you, “YOU”. We should not all be cookie cutter representations of someone else.
Most people really don’t notice these minute details in real life, nor would even think anything was different, unless you obsess over it.
In general, most adults have way to many issues of their own, they are dealing with on a daily basis to focus in that much detail on the exact color tone of your fake tan, or even if its “fake” or not.
If your client loves the result, and you love the products you use and the results, then do not overwhelm yourself so much with details that you are unable to ultimately control. You likely have more then enough issue in your business that require your attention on a daily basis.
Use the products you and your clients love, that work best for you. If you need to tweak some things to obtain a better result, feel free to do so and have fun. Just don’t so focuses on the details, you miss the overall big picture.