3.4 Contraindications and contra-actions

You’ve now got a firm grasp on the layers of the skin, the science behind the sunless tan and colour theory. Well done! While this level of knowledge is a prerequisite for your progression within this course, it is worth mentioning that (unfortunately!) many spray tanning technicians will lack this critical knowledge due to sub-standard training courses and programs, and so you are likely already better educated than many of your soon-to-be competitors.

The final important component of your foundational knowledge is to gain an appreciation for the more common adverse conditions, irritations and reactions associated with the skin.

Contra what?

If you have ever received a beauty or cosmetic treatment, or visited the website of a responsible provider of these, you may have heard or seen the words contraindications and contra-actions before. But what do these actually mean? We’re glad you asked!


The term contraindication originated in the medical field. When broken down into its components, it is defined as:

  • contra – against, opposite to;
  • indication – a symptom that suggests a certain medical treatment is necessary.

When combined, the term contraindication is thus defined as a condition or factor that serves as a reason to refuse treatment due to the potential harm that treatment may cause to you or your client.

Key phrase | Contraindication: a condition or factor that serves as a reason to refuse treatment due to the potential harm that treatment may cause to you or your client.

While the term contraindication originated in medicine, it is now widely used across many facets of beauty, health, and personal services industries. In simple terms, it is any condition under which you should either refuse treatment to someone altogether or only proceed with treatment after additional safety measures are carried out.

The best way to get your head around contraindications is to learn what they are and why they prevent treatment. Common contraindications that you will encounter as a spray tanning technician include, but are not limited to:

  • Asthma or other respiratory issues
  • Evidence of inflammation or infection, including bacterial, fungal, parasitic, or viral infections
  • Cuts or open wounds
  • Cosmetic tattoo (permanent makeup) in the past 2 weeks
  • Hypersensitive skin
  • Eczema
  • Pigmentation disorders that affect cosmetic tanning application
  • Psoriasis
  • Claustrophobia
  • Dry skin
  • Oily or acne-prone skin
  • Sunburn
  • Pregnant

As you can see, there is a vast range of contraindications to be aware of, and there are many more that we haven’t covered! To read more about each contraindication, download the resource provided:

You are not expected to know and remember all of them, nor are it your role to diagnose any conditions. Most contraindications will be identified by the client during the client consultation, and for some, you will be able to identify them upon visual inspection. If you are ever unsure, always consider the potential risks. If proceeding with the service could harm your client, then refuse service. It is too big of a risk for your business to proceed if contraindications are present, and not only will you harm your client, but it will also harm your reputation.

Further to this, you need to stress the importance and consequence of not stating contraindications to your clients. This is generally discussed with your client during the consultation process but must also be documented. A good tip to remember is ‘ if it isn’t written down, it never happened’. If for any reason legal action was taken as a consequence of a reaction to a service you have provided, you will want to ensure that you have documented evidence that a client did not indicate any contraindications and that they were fully aware of any contra-actions.


A contra-action is an undesirable reaction that can occur during or after a lash extension service.

Key phrase | Contra-action: an undesirable reaction that can occur during or after a lash extension service.

The best way to remember the difference between contraindications and contra-actions is to think about contraindications being the ‘indicator’ of a potential issue and contra-actions being a reaction. 99.9% of the time, clients will have no reaction to spray tans, but on rare occasions, clients will show some type of reaction that can range in severity. This is something that is out of your control, and despite your best efforts to prevent contra-actions, they may occur from time to time and symptoms to look out for will include, but will not be limited to:

  • Burning sensations
  • Coughing
  • Fainting
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Skin irritation
  • Watery eyes

If any of the above occur during the treatment, stop immediately and assess the situation. Depending on the severity, you may need to rinse off all products. For serious reactions, such as a client’s being in severe pain or having a serious allergic reaction, seek emergency medical attention straight away. Continuing the tan application where contra-actions are present may cause serious damage, so it is recommended that you stop the service and see if the symptoms persist.

If you would like to learn more about allergic reactions and sensitivities caused by spray tans, read the following articles:

If a client develops any sort of severe reaction in the days following the treatment, ensure that you do not offer any medical advice and suggest that they visit their doctor (GP). If a person has had an allergic reaction previously but is wanting to try a spray tan application again, unfortunately, refusal of future appointments is the most appropriate option. Usually, allergic reactions will worsen in severity rather than getting better, so it is not worth the risk! Alternatively, you can do a patch test if your client persists in wanting to try again.

If, in the unfortunate event, a tanning solution enters a client’s eyes, the client might experience sensitivity or a burning sensation. While this is very rare and should not occur, your tanning solution will usually have a safety data sheet (SDS) which will outline the actions to be taken in such circumstances. We will cover SDS in more detail in a later module, but if in doubt, seek emergency medical attention – it is better to be safe than sorry!

To prevent any reactions, it is so important to take notice of the product quality and ensure you know as much as possible about the product, including how it is made and where the ingredients are sourced. Always have SDS to prove any supplier claims and to have on hand in the event of an emergency.

Patch tests

One of the best ways to pre-empt and prevent contra-actions related to allergies is to conduct a patch test. You may decide to conduct patch tests on all clients prior to applications, but you must definitely do so if a client advises you they have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies. The purpose of the patch test is to test the tanning solution to ensure there are no reactions to any of the ingredients.

Even natural ingredients can cause sensitivity, so patch testing is a way of ensuring a client won’t have issues with your recommended products. Spray tanning requires tanning the whole body with various products such as primers and DHA solution, so it is advisable that you find out if there is any reaction prior to a full application. The inconvenience of testing is far less inconvenient than a possible claim from a client who might experience an adverse skin reaction that needed medical assistance.

In addition to this, ingredients vary between brands greatly. You shouldn’t put your business or a client’s skin at risk if they advise they have skin sensitivity or allergic topical skin issues with certain products. Patch testing critical to ensure you will be able to provide your client with a beautiful, bronzed glow safely! Many spray tanning technicians don’t bother with patch tests, but they are really important. If your client is wondering why they are necessary, you can explain that it is not only an allergy test but an excellent way for you to gauge the colour that will develop based on their skin type.

To perform a patch test, follow these steps:

  1. Apply a small amount of the intended products you wish to use with a cotton bud to the inner crease of the elbow, behind the ear, inside of the wrist, or inside the leg (not as obvious location!).
  2. Leave for 24 to 28 hours
  3. If any contra-actions occur such as redness, swelling, inflammation or itching, avoid using the product, as this is a positive reaction for sensitivity.
  4. If no reaction occurs with either product, then it is fine to proceed with the full-body application.

If you intend on using a primer as well as spray tan, then ensure you test this on the other arms inner elbow crease at the same time (make a note of which product you place where!). It will also help for your own peace of mind if your client consultation cards are filled out, recording the date the client was tested, which product was used and where you conducted the patch test. Always ensure you include the date and a client signature on this paperwork to ensure you are covered.

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