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Fake 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 using fake tan on dry skin is a good idea. Because it’s not a good idea!

Dry skin can affect the result of your fake tan, leaving it patchy, and uneven. Oh, and a sunless 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 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.

Fake tans also tend to be drying to the skin. Applying the fake tanner solution will accelerate the shedding process and you losing your tan, as well as make your dry skin 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.

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.

Fake Tan On Dry Skin

Okay now that you know why fake tan on dry skin is not a good idea, it’s just going to take a little prep work to get the tanning results you want that will last as long as possible.

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.


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.

Australian Gold Moisturer Lock Tan Extender Lotion, Enriched with Vitamin E, Aloe Vera, 16 Fl Oz
Australian Gold Moisturer Lock Tan Extender Lotion, Enriched with Vitamin E, Aloe Vera, 16 Fl Oz
Extends the life of your tan and seals in moisture for a smooth, glowing complexion; Contains panthenol and aloe
Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion (12 oz)
Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion (12 oz)
Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion to moisturize dry skin for a full 24 hours
Vaseline Intensive Care hand and body lotion with Pure Cocoa Butter Cocoa Radiant Heals Dry Skin to Renew Its Natural Glow 20.3 oz
Vaseline Intensive Care hand and body lotion with Pure Cocoa Butter Cocoa Radiant Heals Dry Skin to Renew Its Natural Glow 20.3 oz
Heals dry skin and dry hands for glowing radiance with non-greasy, rich moisturization; Also use as a hand lotion to lock in moisture using microdroplets of Vaseline Jelly

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.

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.

Use Sunscreen

A fake 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!

What is Spray Tanning?

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