A Basic Overview of Color Theory & Spray Tanning

Color theory is defined as both the science and art of using colors. This explains how we perceive colors depending on how they are mixed, matched, or contrasted with each other. As s spray tan artist it’s important to understand color theory, as many brands now categorize their products in “color bases”. A thorough understanding of how colors can complement your client’s skin tone will help you select a product that will achieve their tanning goals.

In the spray tanning industry, manufacturers add FD&C colours to create cosmetic bronzers, which help to serve as a color guide and provide immediate results upon application. These colours are also added to the finished spray solution  to help fine tune how deep, or dark, the chemical reaction appears, and even fine tune the overall color tonality. Some of these bronzers may contain more color added in certain combinations, like blue & red for example, which gives the bronzer a color tone, or “base”,  of violet. That is why we have products rated as “green-based”, “violet-based”, or “brown-based”. 

The science behind choosing color bases lies in the color theory. Remember the color wheel? The colors are clustered as warm and cool colors with each of them having complementary and contrasting colors. Take a look at green, for example, and notice that the color immediately opposite green is red. A green based solution is best used for someone who has a cool undertone to neutralize any red or pink hue their skin might throw, making it look like a more natural tan. On the other hand, a violet based solution is perfect for warm skin undertones because it counteracts the yellow/warm hues on their skin, making their tan have an exotic finish. Notice that violet and yellow are opposite one another on the color wheel. 

It is important to take note, however, that the majority of cosmetic bronzer will wash off in the shower, leaving the final DHA based tan. Products with a heavy amount of colorant, or cosmetic bronzer, tend to leave a more distinct stain in the skin and have a greater effect on the after rinse tan, both in terms of color tone and depth of color. Basically, if you have a really heavy brown based bronzer, your skin will absorb the stain and appear browner and darker until the stain is completely washed away. Because of this, the first priority we should make technicians, to select the proper solution for our clients, is to match the DHA percentage correctly to our client's skin type (refer to Fitzpatrick Scale) and needs, before choosing the right color base for them. This will eradicate the common problems encountered by clients in spray tanning. This will ensure that the true and long lasting result of your client’s spray tan will be natural looking and not brassy. 

For a more in depth discussion on color theory, color bases, skin tones and skin types, please reach out to us about available spray tan courses!

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