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That Presidential Glow: Getting a Spray Tan in Shanghai

We can't travel, but we can sure look like we have!
2020-11-20 12:00:00
Photos: Brandon McGhee
"Tested" is our column where we check out goods and services that might be helpful. We see if they're worth your time and money so you don't have to.
Glow Line is a UV-bed/spray tanning salon that opened in late 2019. It's the only, ahem, registered tanning salon in Shanghai that offers spray tans. They say they use imported spray solutions from the US, made from a blend of organic, vegan ingredients. Getting sprayed costs 600rmb. That's not bad. Sure, lying on a sunbed will cost less per session but you have to do it a few times to see results and it's just, well, bad for the skin, right?

glow line Shanghai

How spray tanning works

Spray tan solutions contain something called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) that interacts with the melanin in your skin, causing the upper layers to darken. Compared to developing a tan by lying under the sun or on a UV bed, spray tans do fade quicker.

For those who favor the just-walked-off-the-beach look, getting a spray tan is instant gratification, especially if you want the sun-kissed look for a party, wedding, photoshoot or whatever.

How long it should last

Five to seven days (or up to twelve if you moisturize religiously).

I am from Scotland, a country obsessed with tanning, and my skin resembles that of a boiled chicken. I am not new to spray tans. Done well, they give an instant boost of body-confidence, kind of like makeup when you’ve got a zit that just won’t pop. Done badly, you end up looking like you just lost a re-election.

As tanning is predominately a western beauty trend, I was surprised tanning salons even exist here. So I volunteered to go get a spray tan, in the middle of October, to see how Glow Line would compare to my past experience.

back Shanghai

Owner Rachel Tao explained that she practiced for 200 hours while working part-time in a tanning salon in the US, where she was studying for a communications degree, before being allowed to spray solo. Like the rice guy in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. "I didn't touch the fish until I was 45."

What to expect

You need to prepare. Glow Line advised me to shave and exfoliate the day before and to avoid applying lotions, body oils, and make-up, which might interfere with the tanning solution. Here's a little advice from me: don't wear jeans. I did and then stained them after the tan (though the stains came out in the wash).

Then you choose a shade. Glow Line does four, from level one (slightly golden) to level four (your uncle who holidays in Costa Del Sol). I went with level two, the most popular, and did it in a bikini top and disposable undies. (You can do it nude if you don't have a SmartShanghai photographer with you.)

The spray machine used to pressurize the solution looks like something a mechanic would use on Pimp My Ride; the experience does feel like a car getting a paint job. The solution isn’t bad for your skin, but you don’t want to be inhaling it, so, nose plugs are a must.

To prevent staining areas that wouldn’t naturally tan, like your nails and palms, they apply a thick lotion, and put some stickers on the soles of your feet. The experience isn’t unpleasant but a spritz with this cold solution is enough to make you gasp at first. Don't gasp or everything you eat later is going to taste like spray tan.


Glow Line was methodical. Rachel had me posing in countless unattractive positions, including an up-close and personal with my butt. The process took less than thirty minutes and she left me with very strict instructions: DO NOT WASH FOR AT LEAST 5 HOURS.

More advice: the color darkens but a lukewarm shower balances it out.

before Shanghai
after Shanghai

The final color was pleasantly toasted, and the tan lines were epic. No orange presidential glow. Five days later, I'm still tan, the most tanned I’ve ever been in my life.

This bird has gone from boiled to beautifully roasted.

Glow Line Tanning is at Rm 2904, Bldg 3, 183 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Xinhua Lu / 淮海西路183弄3号楼2904, 近新华路.

For more places to get a tan in Shanghai and other beauty venues visit our directory.