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 get a sunbed tan with a fake tan as well.

But it is not advisable.

To fully understand why, let’s first take a closer look at what’s involved in getting a fake tan, and tanning on a sunbed. Then I’ll discuss the interplay between them, and why this may not be the best choice.

can you tan through a fake tan on a sunbed

How Does A Fake Tan Work?

Fake tans, also known as self-tanners or sunless tanners, are alternatives to a sunbed or a natural suntan. There are tons of brands of this product 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 Epidermis is known as the stratum corneum, a layer of skin that consists of dead skin cells. The amino acids on the stratum corneum chemically react to the DHA and produce a product known as melanoidins.

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

The concentration of DHA in the 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 users 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 the dead skin cells are affected. Consequently, it’s a pretty safe solution for getting some 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 7-14 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.

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:

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 an abundance of it, 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.

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.

Inhibit Vitamin D Production

The melanoidin pigments produce don’t just darken the skin color, they are also found to inhibit 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.

Skin Irritation

Skin irritation can also result from having a fake tan. It possible to get contact dermatitis from sunless tanning. Furthermore, 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.

How Does Tanning On A Sunbed Work?

Now that we know how a fake tan works, let’s take a closer look at how to tan on a sunbed so we can determine if combining both is possible and advisable.

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

There are some full-spectrum sunbeds that may produce a light profile that more closely resembles sunlight, but these are relatively rare.

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 on 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.

I get it.

Can You Tan Through A Fake Tan On A Sunbed?

Tanning Bed

You can tan through a fake tan on a sunbed. The tan skin produced by self-tanners doesn’t impact the skin much, and doesn’t provide much protection against UV light.

You can 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.

Although you can still tan through a fake tan on a sunbed, it isn’t advisable to do so.

The primary reason is that tanning in a tanning bed under any circumstances isn’t a good choice. Combine 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 of the UV radiation. Skin that is already treated with DHA due to the fake tan is already prone to UV damaging.

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

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 for 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!

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.

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 the bronzing beads that burst as applied on 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 more deeper color.


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 epidermis. This process is largely benign, but cause some changes in how the 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 can exacerbate the formation of free radicals that DHA may produce.

This can lead to more rapid skin aging and wrinkling. And of course, there’s the ever-present risk of cancer due to tanning bed use.

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

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