In our series Behind the CurtainTM, we get the scoop on the routines, careers, and more of those working so hard behind the scenes to make celebrities look stunning.
When A-listers want to look better naked, many believe there’s only one person to call: airbrush-tanning artist Kristyn Pradas. From Jennifer Lawrence to Kate Beckinsale, the Los Angeles-based pro has seen an astonishing number of Hollywood’s elite in the buff. “It’s very intimate — you become a confidante,” the 37-year-old shares. Pradas’s hyper-realistic bronzing has graced some of the world’s most eminent events; affairs where a flawless tan is crucial, including the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show® and on set for the Sports Illustrated® Swimsuit issue.
In a way, Pradas has been perfecting her art since she was a tween. The New York native, who says she “always wanted to be tan,” recalls experimenting with drugstore self-tanners when she was in seventh grade. Even then, she was getting incredibly technical with her application, going so far as to clean her palms and nail beds with makeup wipes, and use a makeup sponge to blend. It wasn’t until after she began working as a makeup artist that Pradas realized she could shape her middle school fascination into a career. Naturally, she drew parallels from makeup artistry and weaved them into her tanning techniques. “I found that I could camouflage certain areas and enhance others,” she notes, comparing tanning to a full body highlighting and contouring of sorts.
After making a name for herself in the Big Apple, Pradas decamped to the sunny streets of LA where a tan can be showcased year round. It was there that demand for her talent grew so much that she decided to start her own product line, Pradas Glow®, which includes her own tanning solution, body mitts, and more. Here, Pradas explains how she got her big break, her favorite treatments, and reveals her best-kept secrets for a smooth, seamless, and streak-free self-tan.
Spotlyte: When did you get your big break?
Kristyn Pradas: In 2013 — that was the first year I worked the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
Spotlyte: How did you land such a coveted gig?
KP: One of the PR girls at Victoria's Secret® was my client. She called me one day and asked, "Can you spray the vice president of Victoria's Secret?" So I did. Two days later, my client called me again. She told me that the fashion show’s creative director saw the VP's tan and couldn't believe that it [was fake]; she wanted a tan as well. I sprayed her — and within a week, [Victoria’s Secret] called and said I had the show. I was not expecting it, but it was the best feeling ever!
Spotlyte: What was it like working on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the first time?
KP: It was crazy. It was cool. It was every emotion you could imagine! We tanned [all of the models] during the three days leading up to the show.
Spotlyte: Obviously, the models are incredibly fit, but is there any strategic body contouring going on behind-the-scenes?
KP: If a model is very muscular, you don't want them to look too cut, but it really depends. At my first show, Karlie Kloss taught me a little trick. She told me to make her inner thighs darker than the rest of her legs. It creates an illusion that makes the legs look thinner when a girl is walking down the runway. Karlie said, “Make it nice and dark in there!”
Spotlyte: In your opinion, what makes your self-tanning technique so special?
KP: My strategy is always to give my clients the most natural-looking tan possible, so I always blend their hands and clean [around] the nails. Even the way that I spray [is a little different].
Spotlyte: How so?
KP: People often spray too much solution on the body, so when your tan sheds it kind of looks like you have a funky skin disease. I spray less solution; the important thing for me is that nobody can tell that your tan is fake.
Spotlyte: You’ve worked with everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Ashley Graham. How did you rack up such an impressive celebrity client roster?
KP: It’s honestly just word of mouth. My first celebrity client was Susan Sarandon, and that was the coolest experience of my life because I grew up watching all of her movies. Her dog peed in my [tanning] tent once when I was doing a house call, but I never told her because I was just so excited to be there! She was going on a trip and it was her first spray tan.
Spotlyte: What did Susan Sarandon think of her first spray tan?
KP: She loved it! She actually called me herself and left a voicemail from her personal number on my cell phone. I still have the message.
Spotlyte: What is your favorite part about working with celebrities?
KP: The production [aspect of working with celebrities] is so much fun. You don’t realize how much goes into it, but being a part of such iconic moments is really cool.
Spotlyte: Any downsides?
KP: Traveling is hard. Sometimes you’re on a plane every other day, so that’s taxing on the body. But you can get through it! I often run on adrenaline because it’s all so exciting!
Spotlyte: As someone who sees clients in their most vulnerable state, how do you develop a level of trust with them and help clients feel comfortable?
KP: When you're naked, you're either going to stand there and feel uncomfortable, or you're going to start speaking. I try to find some sort of common ground and create a safe space, which is really what everyone is looking for.
Spotlyte: What kind of tone does that set for the experience?
KP: People tell me things they would never even tell their significant others, best friends, or family members. In this day and age, people want to feel safe. They want to be able to trust you.
Spotlyte: Who inspires you personally and professionally?
KP: My mom inspires me personally. She's such a kind human being. Sometimes we forget to be kind in this world; she's a friendly reminder. Professionally, Tony Robbins inspires me to do better, be better, help more, and live in the moment.
Spotlyte: Your mom was one of your original spray tan guinea pigs, but has Tony Robbins ever been blessed with a spray tan from you?
KP: I would love to [spray tan him], but I’d need a step ladder since I’m so short. I’m also not sure if he’d fit in my tent. He might be too tall. I actually had to get a special tent for the Victoria’s Secret models because they are so tall and their arms are so long!
Spotlyte: What inspired you to create your own line of tanning products?
KP: I wanted to create a natural line, because I've always had sensitive skin. I used to get rashes from some of the pretty lotions and oils — so I wanted to create something that’s natural and also pretty. Ingredients are key.
The product that I love most is my Skin EssentialTM, which is my hydration infusion that has hyaluronic acid, ceramides, peptides, organic chamomile, and organic rose. It’s a serum you can use on your face and body or under makeup. It's for sensitive skin. I also offer it as a service, so I put it into my spray gun the same way I would with a tanning solution. Not everyone wants to be tan, but everybody wants to have hydrated skin and glow.
Spotlyte: What are the biggest self-tanning mistakes you’ve seen people make?
KP: People definitely put on too much solution — that's number one. They think if they add more solution, they’ll be darker — but that's really not the truth.
Spotlyte: So it’s really the time you leave self-tanner on — versus how much you apply — that determines the color, right?
Spotlyte: Any other tanning mishaps you often see people make?
KP: A lot of people stain the bottom of their feet — they’re a really difficult spot because they absorb more color. Once the bottom of your feet turn orange, it’s not easy to remove. I do sell an express fake tan remover that breaks down the DHA better than any other product.
Spotlyte: How do you prevent your feet from getting stained in the first place?
KP: You have to be meticulous with that area. Don't tan underneath your foot — but go around your heels and foot, because depending on your shoe, you're going to see all that.
Spotlyte: What’s the secret to creating even color?
KP: I use a barrier cream on the hands and feet before I apply self-tanner mousse. I like to use Cetaphil® lotion. Sometimes it’s a little too thin, so you might need more than one coat — or you can use the cream version, which is a little thicker. Which cream you need also depends on how dry your skin is. I wash my hands 50 times a day, so my hands get very dry, whereas somebody else’s may not.
Spotlyte: Do you use the barrier cream afterwards as well?
KP: If the self-tanner has already absorbed for about 20 minutes, and my feet and hands are still really dry, I will apply a little bit more [barrier cream] so that those areas don’t absorb too much color. Then, I use a makeup sponge or brush to blend those areas, using circular motions. Using self-tanner is just like makeup — blend, blend, blend!
Spotlyte: Any advice for tanning the face?
KP: I always dab the ears and the nose. [The skin over] cartilage can actually take on a lot of color and get darker than the rest of your face. You don't want the ears to get too dark, but you do want them to have a little color. A tan face with white ears is a telltale sign of a fake tan. So many people forget that area and then wear their hair up, and it’s the one spot everyone can see.
Spotlyte: Any other must-have products everyone should own if they want to self-tan like a pro at home?
KP: Makeup wipes. I always have two different types. I like Simple’s® exfoliating wipes — those are fantastic. Say you want to apply self-tanner, but you haven't had a chance to exfoliate, you can just use one of those wipes to remove dead skin cells so that you have a more even application. I also like the Neutrogena® wipes in the blue package, because you can use them to clean up little messes like the palms of your hands or nails.
I like to use organic arrowroot powder, which I buy in a big bag from Amazon®, or Burt's Bees® talc-free baby powder. After I apply the self-tanner, I use the powder on different areas that may potentially crease or sweat, like right underneath the tush, because sometimes a line forms underneath the butt. You can put it behind your knees, because when you walk, bend your knees, or sit down, the legs can crease while the tanner is developing. If your thighs touch, you can add some powder to prevent them from rubbing together. I also dust it underneath the arms and along the inner arm near the elbow. You can even throw some baby powder on your neck and blend that with a big powder brush. The powder creates a barrier so that you can just throw your clothes on right away.
Spotlyte: What is the ultimate post-tanning outfit, and why?
KP: Sweatpants and a hoodie. Once, I sprayed a Victoria's Secret model for an event, and she called me in the middle of the night. She’d slept with her hand on her inner thigh and it had turned her hand brown — and she had a handprint on her inner thigh!
Spotlyte: In addition to spray tanning, do you wear bronzer?
KP: It depends on how dark my spray tan is. If I have a dark tan, I don't need to wear that much bronzer. NARS® bronzer is my favorite. I also like bronzers from e.l.f.TM
Spotlyte: What’s your stance on injectables?
KP: I've had injectable wrinkle reducer. I started this year and I love the results. I’ve always been very expressive, so my lines are deep. Dr. Laila Elkeeb treats my forehead and my crow’s feet. I’m so happy with the results!
Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you.
Spotlyte: Have you tried other treatments in the realm of medical aesthetics?
KP: I’ve gotten chemical peels. The results are amazing, but I had to stay indoors for a week. It [was worth it though], because it basically gave me brand new skin.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Spotlyte: Who are your go-to beauty pros? Outside of spray tanning, of course.
KP: Josh Liu cuts my hair. Dalina [Rebollo] does my color. I get my nails done by Natalie [Martins] from Nail Swag®.
Spotlyte: You’re always on the road, but what is your happy place?
KP: Anywhere I'm alone. It's important to make time for yourself. Shut off your devices. Just be with yourself and talk to yourself. Ask yourself questions. Really spend time with yourself — it's the one relationship that gets neglected the most.
Spotlyte: While you value alone time, you also spend a lot of time with some of the biggest celebrities in the world. Do you see a difference in a star’s confidence level after you spray tan them?
KP: 100 percent. They are ready to take on the world! These people actually get criticized so much on social media. There are a lot of people hiding behind the phone and the computer saying really mean things to them. It takes a lot of courage and strength to be a celebrity nowadays. A little confidence boost can help make the situation better.
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