Spray Tan on Dry Skin: A Bad Idea?

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So you are just itching to get a fake tan, but you have dry skin. You’d be right to check if fake tan on dry skin is a good idea. Because it’s not a good idea to use a fake tan or spray tan on dry skin!

Dry skin can affect the result of your fake tan, leaving it patchy, and uneven. Oh, and a sunless tanner on dry skin will fade much more quickly than it will on well-nourished skin.

But not to worry! We are going to take a look at the skin’s life cycle, how fake tan works, and how to prepare even the driest skin before getting a spray tan or fake tan. You’ll end up with a smooth, flawless coverage that lasts as long as possible.


Skin Cell Life Cycle

The structure of your skin is generally divided into 2 main layers: the epidermis and the dermis.

Skin Diagram Source: Wikipedia
Skin Diagram Source: Wikipedia

The epidermis is comprised of up to 30 layers of skin cells. The top layer of these skin cells is called the stratum corneum. It is the exposed, outermost layer of your skin consisting of dead skin cells.

The Dermis lies directly beneath the epidermis. It contains hair follicles, oil glands, sweat glands, blood vessels, and nerve endings, which provide you with the sense of touch, and feel heat and cold.

Since it is exposed, the epidermis requires frequent cell regeneration. You lose 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells each minute, which is about 50 million cells every day.


The skin cells are constantly being generated in the lower layers of the epidermis before moving to the surface to replace the old cells that harden, dry up and fall off. This process of growing, moving, and shedding takes about four weeks.

You’ll understand why this is important when we get to how fake tan works.

How Fake Tan Works

The active ingredient in most spray tans and self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which works by reacting with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.

Your fake tan will only last as long as it takes to shed those dead skin cells. Remember, the DHA in fake tanners reacts with the top layer of skin cells. Those cells, which are now dry, are just about to be purged to make way for the new cells underneath.

And with this purge, goes your tan.

Does Spray Tan Dry Out Skin?

Fake tans and spray tans tend to be drying to the skin. Applying the fake tanner solution will accelerate the shedding process, which will lead to you losing your tan. And your dry skin will end up even drier and cracklier.

Another big issue with applying fake tan over dry skin is that a fake tan will cling more readily to dry areas, resulting in a patchy, streaky finish.

Spray Tan On Dry Skin: What Can You Do?

If your skin is dry but you want that luscious golden glow, are you out of luck? No, you can still get a spray tan or fake tan with dry skin.

But you’ve got some prep work to do to get a result that will look amazing and last as long as possible.

How To Fake Tan With Dry Skin

Here are 10 steps to get a beautiful fake tan with dry skin.

1. Skin Assessment

Take a look at your skin. How dry is it? If you have any areas you want to tan that are so dry that they are chapped or cracked, you need to let that heal BEFORE you proceed.

Getting fake tan into broken skin can result in an infection. If it’s just dry and flaky, then you can go on to the next step.

2. Exfoliate!

This is a crucial first step before you apply your self tanner because you are getting rid of the skin cells that are closest to shedding, so your tanner will be reacting with the most ‘recently dead’ skin cells, as opposed to the ones just about to shed and take your tan with them.

Pay special attention to exfoliating areas that tend to build up excess dry skin, like knees, heels and elbows.

Exfoliating dry skin away will prevent it from absorbing more self-tanner in some areas of your body than others, so you get an even tan.

You can opt for just using an exfoliating mitt or a gentle scrub. The best pre-tan exfoliators are all-natural. There are loads of recipes out there, but make sure it’s oil-free and if it uses sugar or salt, make sure it’s a fine grind. Raw sugar and sea salt are way too abrasive.

If you want to turn to a store-bought scrub, choose a gentle scrub and avoid those with microbeads, parabens, and sulfates.

8. Read the Instructions

If you are using an at-home sunless tanner, read the instructions! Different products will have different instructions in terms of how long to leave it on and when to wash it off. Using your product properly is the best way to not only achieve desired results, but make sure you are getting the longest lasting tan.

9. Stay out of the sun for 72 hours after application

Try to avoid sun for the first few days after your spray tan. Later on, you can tan through a sunless tan, but it’s not a great idea.

10. Use Sunscreen

A fake tan or spray tan does not offer protection against the sun. You still need to use SPF. There’s nothing that will make your skin drier or your tan fade away faster than a sunburn, especially if it starts peeling!

How Long Does Self Tanner Last?

A fake tan on healthy, hydrated skin usually lasts about 7-10 days. This is about the time it takes for your skin to shed.

If you start off with dry skin, however, it will not last that long.

Should You Moisturize Before Fake Tanning?

Keep your skin moisturized in the days before applying a fake tan.

That said, avoid moisturizing your skin immediately before applying a fake tan, otherwise, it will go on unevenly and can end up streaky.

See our article on prepping for fake tans for more information.

Can You Put Moisturizer Over Self Tanner?

Whether you are getting a spray tan at the salon or you are using a self-tanner from a bottle at home, there is a developing period after self tanner is applied. This is the time when the DHA is reacting with the skin cells to darken them.

You should wait 8 hours before you shower, then moisturize.

And then continue to moisturize regularly. Coconut oil is a great choice, but you can generally use whatever.

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).