Can You Tan Through A Fake Tan On A Sunbed?

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So you’re working on perfecting your tan, but an important event has come up. You need to look your absolute best. You consider your options and timing and choose to use a sunless tanner/fake tan. Now that a day has passed and you still want to continue working on your tan in a tanning bed.

But can you do that? Can you tan through a fake tan on a sunbed?

Well, the short answer is yes, you can tan on a sunbed, even with a fake tan on your skin.

But it may not be a great idea.

Fake tans are chemical reactions that dye the skin. Tanning beds (and the sun) cause the skin to produce melanin to darken the skin.

UV exposure can actually shorten the life of your spray tan.

To fully understand how this all works, let’s first take a closer look at what’s involved in getting a fake tan, and tanning on a sunbed. Then we’ll discuss the interplay between them. You’ll see why this combo may not be a great choice.


Can You Tan Through A Fake Tan On A Sunbed?

can you tan through a fake tan on a sunbed

So can you tan with self-tanner on?

Yes, you can tan through a fake tan on a sunbed, whether it’s a spray tan or a sunless tanner. But it will make your spray tan fade out faster, and it provides no protection against UV damage.

Make the Spray Tan Fade

UV light hastens the turnover of skin cells. Because fake tan is essentially a chemical dye on the skin, when you lose skin cells, your tan fades as well. You’ve spent money and time getting a spray tan, you might as well enjoy it!

Additionally, you run the risk of your tan fading in a splotchy way. You may end up wanting to grab some baby oil to remove your fake tan altogether after a couple of days.

Risk of UV Damage

The tan color produced by self-tanners doesn’t impact the skin much and doesn’t provide protection against UV light.

You can also absolutely get a sunburn if you have a fake tan. It’s not a base tan, and short of some speculative studies, does not provide any UV protection at all.

With self-tanners, only the topmost dead skin cells are affected by the change in color. There are no pigments produced that will protect from UV light.

Tanning in a tanning bed under any circumstances isn’t a good choice, and pretty much all dermatologists and cancer organizations advise against tanning beds. Combining that with the potential for skin irritation and free radical production means that you won’t be doing your skin any favors at all.

Besides, the tanning lotions used with tanning beds may contain accelerators that enable the skin to absorb more UV radiation. Skin that is already treated with DHA due to the fake tan is already prone to UV damage.

Adding more products to further improve UV absorption can lead to easily tanning and burning the skin. This is especially true for sunbeds, which emit highly concentrated UV radiation.

How Does A Fake Tan Work?

Fake tans, also known as spray tans, self-tanners, or sunless tanners, are alternatives to a sunbed or a natural suntan. There are tons of brands of these products such as Tan Physics (reviewed here) and Loving Tan.

Sunless Tanners are a quick way to get a tan without having to expose your skin to potentially dangerous UV radiation.

This is all possible through the substance called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

Skin Diagram

The topmost layer of the skin (epidermis) is known as the stratum corneum. This is a layer of dead skin cells that will turn color when exposed to the DHA of a fake tan.

This reaction turns the skin brown and makes the skin tone darker.

The concentration of DHA in a self-tanning cream, lotion, or spray will directly affect how dark your skin turns. The process starts taking effect in a couple of hours, and you will get progressively darker for up to 72 hours.

This reaction stops when you shower and remove the self-tanning cream.

In the process of fake tanning, only those dead skin cells are affected.

Fake tans are a great way to safely get color! There are no chemicals absorbed into the body and no need for UV Exposure.

Through the natural process of skin renewal, the dead skin will fall off over the next several days. Usually, the fake tan lasts for around 7-10 days before it fades.

These products can be applied on your own at home or with a little help from a friend to make sure your tan even the hard-to-reach places.

Similarly, there are tanning salons where professionals apply the tanning solution for clients.

Fake tans are a great way to safely get color! There are no chemicals absorbed into the body and no need for UV Exposure.

Skin Damage Due To A Fake Tan

Aside from giving a tan, the reaction of DHA and amino acids in the skin cells could potentially cause damage. However, this is still speculative, and still being researched.

The damage from fake tans is almost certainly much less than the potential damage from using a sunbed.

Here are a few potential side effects of using DHA:

1. Your Skin Is More Prone To Sun Damage

Exposure to the sun is not advisable for those who had a fake tan. A recent study in Germany suggests that DHA-treated skin exposed to UV light produces an increase in the number of free radicals.

The fake tan ends up conflicting with the UV-tan, which is why tanning with a spray tan isn’t a good idea.

2. Oxidative Stress

The reaction of the DHA with the amino acids on the skin cells is a form of a Maillard reaction. In this reaction, free radicals are produced. Free radicals cause the skin to age. And with a high presence of free radicals, the skin ages prematurely.

This Oxidative Stress is present in the DHA darkening process, but it’s unclear how much of a problem it is.

3. Inhibited Vitamin D Production

The melanoidin pigments produce darken the skin and prevent the body from producing vitamin D. As many know, vitamin D production is strongly correlated to sun exposure, and is connected to many of the benefits of tanning outside.

However, this is less of an issue for those who use Sunbeds for tanning, as these don’t necessarily provide UVB radiation, which produces vitamin D. This depends heavily on whether you’re using a bronzing bed or regular bed.

However, another way to spin these conclusions is that DHA-treated skin may act as a natural sunscreen.

4. Skin Irritation

Skin irritation can also result from having a fake tan. It is possible to get contact dermatitis from sunless tanning. Further, the use of fragrance on most DHA-containing fake tanners can also irritate the skin.

The Bottom Line on Fake Tan Risks

While there are some potential pitfalls to fake tans, their overall risk profile is much, much lower than that of tanning in a sunbed.

The fake tan ends up conflicting with the UV-tan, which is why tanning with a spray tan isn’t a good idea.

How Does Tanning On A Sunbed Work?

Now that we know how a fake tan works, let’s go over how tanning beds work, so you can see what the problem is.

Sunbeds try to copy how the sun naturally tans the skin. Unlike sunlight which contains a combination of UVA and UVB radiation, tanning bed bulbs mostly emit UVA radiation.

There are some full-spectrum sunbeds that may produce a light profile that more closely resembles sunlight, but these are relatively rare. See Bronzing Bed vs Tanning Bed for more information.

UVA penetrates deeper into the skin, which is why it only takes a few minutes to use. The rays are concentrated (perhaps up to six times as strong as full sunlight), and basking too long in a tanning bed will significantly damage the skin.

The UVA will stimulate melanocytes, which are found in the deeper skin levels, to produce melanin. Melanin is a brown pigment that the body normally produces to naturally protect the body against UV light.

Dangers Of Tanning On A Sunbed

The main danger of using a sunbed is increasing the risk of developing skin cancer. Whether it’s the non-melanoma or a melanoma type, tanning on sunbeds increases the risk.

Virtually all medical authorities agree that tanning beds are dangerous. In 2009, the World Health Organization classified Tanning Beds as a Class 1 Carcinogen: the same category as asbestos and cigarettes.

The intense light exposure is more powerful than sunlight, and you have a higher risk of developing deadly melanoma by tanning on a sunbed.

If cancer isn’t enough to think twice about going into a sunbed, it should also be noted that it could cause premature aging of the skin. It does not just cause wrinkles, but also sunspots.

For these reasons, using a tanning bed is just not a good idea if it can be avoided. Choose a spray tan, or tan outdoors responsibly.

Of course, sometimes those options just aren’t available. And all of us take risks every day, including driving a car, crossing the street, and eating food.

Some people just love the feel of real UV light on the skin, even if it’s from a tanning bed.

We get it, and don’t judge!

Alternatives To Fake Tans

Fake tans are popular because they can instantly provide glowing bronze skin in just a few hours. If you’re still working on your tan but requires an instant bronze glow, you can turn to body bronzers instead of fake tans.

I should also note that there is a great deal of overlap between fake tans and bronzers: many products will have both.

However, some do not have both.

DHA-free Body bronzers can give you the rich tan skin you’re craving without the presence of DHA. But unlike self-tanners that last for days, body bronzers are only good until your next bath.

Here are a few bronzer-only formulas to check out:

SugarBaby Radiance Wash Off Bronzing Moisturizer Cream

SugarBaby Radiance Wash Off Bronzing Moisturizer Cream

Keep the body moisturized and glowing with a tan by using SugarBaby’s Radiance bronzing moisturizer cream. It has mineral-enriched natural moisturizers, almond oil, shea butter, aloe vera, and vitamin E that work together for supple tan-colored skin.

Beautiful stuff!

SugarBaby Radiance Wash Off Bronzing Moisturizer Cream, Bronze
  • Combines a mineral enriched natural...
  • Use this sun-kissed moisturizing cream...
  • Featured ingredients: Aloe Vera, sweet...
  • Not tested on animals, vegan friendly
  • Made in Australia

St. Moriz Instant Wash Off Body Bronzer

St. Moriz Instant Wash Off Body Bronzer

Let the tan last all day long with this body bronzer by St. Moritz. This formula provides waterproof and streak-free golden brown skin in just a few minutes. You don’t have to wait for hours for the tan to develop because you can achieve results instantly.

It also doesn’t transfer to clothes.

St. Moriz Instant Wash Off Body Bronzer Color Medium (Lasts All Day) 5.0 oz
  • St. Moriz Professional Wash Off Body Tan...
  • St. Moriz Professional Wash Off Body Tan...
  • Gives a natural result immediately: A...
  • The St. Moriz Professional Wash Off Body...
  • Dermatologically and Salon tested.

Selfie Tan’n Go Instant Body Bronzer with Wash Off Formula

Selfie Tan'n Go Instant Body Bronzer with Wash Off Formula

Achieve an instant sun-kissed glow with this body bronzer by Selfie Tan ‘n Go. The lightweight formula contains bronzing beads that burst as applied to the skin. It’s DHA, paraben, and fragrance-free so it’s very unlikely to irritate the skin.

Apply once for an instant glow and apply again for a deeper color.

Selfie Tan'n Go Instant Body Bronzer with Wash Off Formula - Sunless self tanner (Medium Tan) rich, Exotic natural looking fragrance-free tan for head to toe for all skin types, 6.7 oz
  • It works flawlessly for all skin types,...
  • This lightweight formula is packed with...
  • Get an instant head to toe sun-kissed...
  • Dries super-fast and is fragrance-free,...
  • Apply once for an instant, subtle glow....

Final Thoughts

Once you have a fake tan on your skin, the DHA has changed the color of some of the dead skin cells on the outermost layer of your skin. This process is essentially harmless but causes some changes in the ways your skin reacts to UV light.

Tanning in a tanning bed is risky, no matter what the current condition of your skin is. However, the UV light of a tanning bed will be worse for those who have a spray tan.

And you will potentially shorten the life of your spray tan by tanning in a bed!

Instead of using a tanning bed after you have a fake tan, it may be better to choose a deeper bronzer, spray tan, or 100% natural sunlight to complete your tan.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).