Self-tanners are all, by definition, waterproof self tanners. Unlike bronzers, which are a makeup that provides a tint of color over your skin will wash off in the shower, self tanners don’t wash off.
Self tanners contain an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), that causes a chemical reaction with the skin. DHA reacts with the dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.
Self tanners work by essentially staining the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin to give you that tanned look.
However, it gets a bit more complicated than that, because many self-tanners contain bronzers that immediately give some color. If that is washed off before the self tanner sets, it will appear that the self-tanner has washed away.
In this article, we’ll look at how waterproof self tanners actually are, and how self tanners react to water.
Can You Swim With Fake Tan?
You don’t have to worry about jumping in the pool and leaving a slick behind you as you swim around if you are using a self-tanner. Your tan will not simply come off in the water.
But swimming, especially in chlorinated and saltwater can fade your tan much faster than it would normally.
Because of how they work, self-tanners don’t usually last more than 10 days. This is about the time it takes for your skin to shed. As you shed dead skin cells, you are shedding your tan along with them.
Swimming in chlorinated water and seawater is drying and will cause you to shed those dead skin cells faster, so your tan won’t last as long.
See also: Can You Swim With a Spray Tan?
How To Prevent a Fake Tan From Fading While Swimming
Before you apply your self tanner – exfoliate! See our article on the Best Spray Tan Exfoliators for recommendations.
Exfoliation will make your tan last longer. Exfoliation removes the dead skin cells in the most advanced stages and closest to shedding gone.
This ensures that your tanner is reacting with the most recently dead skin cells (as opposed to the ones just about to shed and take your tan with them). Those cells will last longer, and keep your skin tan for longer.
Apply your self tanner at least 8 hours before you go swimming if it’s an indoor or covered pool.
Otherwise, you will want to give yourself 24-72 hours before you go into the sun. That’s the time it takes for the reaction to completely take place. Sun exposure during this time can increase the aging effects of the self-tanner.
We will talk more about this later.
Do I need sunscreen if I have a tan?
Yes, you definitely do. While sunless tanners look like they give you a base tan and the small amount of sun protection that comes with it, sunless tanner doesn’t actually provide any protection at all.
You still need to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 if you are spending time outside. Better to choose an SPF 30 or higher. Or even better, tan in the morning and cover up under the shade during the peak sun hours.
Though it’s recommended to wait 72 hours after applying your fake tan to go and spend time in the sun, you need to wait at least 24 hours before applying sunscreen so as not to mess up the tanning process.
In the meantime, if you have to go out to run errands, just cover up and make sure your skin is protected.
Is self tanner bad for your skin?
The active ingredient in most self tanners is DHA. DHA has been approved by the FDA as safe for topical use as long as you keep it away from mucous membranes, like your nose, mouth, eyes, etc.
Inhaling spray tan is one of the main risks of spray tan. That’s less of a problem with sunless tanners, but regardless, you want to keep it on the outside.
There have however been studies that found that with frequent use, DHA can cause accelerated skin aging. It can lower your Vitamin D levels and even cause DNA damage to skin cells.
It’s been noted that these side effects increase with sun exposure within the first 72 hours of application. That is why we recommend not going into the sun for that period of time. That all having been said, DHA is non-carcinogenic.
If you are using self-tanner on your face, frequent use can also lead to clogged pores.
And as with any topical skin products, you may have a sensitivity or allergy to an ingredient in the self tanner.
In this case just use your common sense – if you develop any irritation, redness, swelling or any type of adverse reaction to using it, discontinue use immediately.
DHA-free self tanner is not a risk free alternative. The active ingredient in DHA-free self-tanners is erythrulose. Not only is erythrulose similar in structure to DHA, it has the same risks and side effects.
Bottom line – self tanner is not bad for your skin as long as you are not using it all the time.
What about self tanners that advertise themselves as waterproof?
Just like with every range of cosmetic or food product – marketing buzzwords are everywhere. They are often used to stay on trend or to get ahead of the competition by pushing extra features.
Basically, any self-tanner advertising itself as waterproof is the same as bottled water advertising itself as gluten-free.
But there’s a caveat that we mentioned above.
Bronzers in Self Tanners
Many self tanners include a bronzer in the formula, such as this . The bronzer will instantly darken the skin, while the DHA develops over 8 or so hours. However, bronzer is essentially makeup, and will wash off.
The reason for bronzers in self tanner is two-fold:
- To give some guidance as to where you have already applied the self tanner on your body
- To give a sense of something happening immediately. Instant gratification baby!
If you were to hop in the shower or go in the pool while using a self tanner with a bronzer, before the self-tanner has developed, you will wash off the bronzer. You will also halt the self-tanner from working, and you’ll have a half-baked Fake Bake .
Dr. Seuss would be proud.
There are a few things we want you to take away from this:
All self tanners are essentially waterproof self tanners (i.e. they won’t come off in the pool), but exposure to chlorine and saltwater can accelerate drying skin, which in turn will make you shed skin cells faster so your tan won’t last as long.
Keep your tan lasting longer by exfoliating before you use your self tanner. It’s best to wait at least 8 hours before you go swimming and ALWAYS wear sunscreen if you are spending time outdoors.
And if your self-tanner has a bronzer, wait until the tan has set before you go in the water to ensure the tan develops fully.