How Does Tanning Water Work?

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Sunless tanners provide the “just got back from my tropical vacation at the beach” glowing tan, without the exposure to UV radiation and the health risks, including premature aging, skin damage, and cancer.

It’s no wonder there are so many self-tanning products available on the market today. The latest product that’s been added to this list is tanning water.

Tanning water promises less mess, zero streaky lines, and a much quicker application, not to mention extra hydration to leave your skin smooth, soft, and glowing.

Sounds amazing, but how does tanning water work?  In this article, we are going to delve into the latest self-tanning phenomenon that’s taken the tanning world by storm to find out!


What is Tanning Water?

Sally Hansen Tanning Water

Tanning water is a water-based clear spray, blended with moisturizing ingredients and dihydroxyacetone, or DHA (which is the active tanning ingredient). It hydrates the skin while creating a temporary simulated tan.

Its transparent, lightweight, and skin-hydrating formula gradually develops over a few hours leaving you with softer skin and a golden glow.

See our article here if you want to learn all about it.

How Does Tanning Water Work?

Like most self-tanners, the active ingredient in tanning water is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is responsible for the temporary tanning of the skin.

DHA works by creating a chemical reaction with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin, which makes you look tanned.

While it’s the DHA that actually gives you a tanned look, tanning waters also contain hydrating ingredients that are often lacking in traditional self-tanners, to soften the skin.

Tanning waters tan you with the same ingredient as a typical sunless tanner. But the waters are clear. These products don’t stain clothing or leave streaks.

Benefits of Tanning Water Over Other Self-Tanners

1. Tanning Water is Transparent

While most other self-tanners use a cosmetic bronzer in addition to DHA, tanning water is transparent, so it won’t stain your clothes or bed sheets after you’ve applied it.

2. Tanning Water Hydrates Your Skin

Tanning water contains skin-hydrating ingredients that moisturize while it tans. This is unlike traditional self-tanners which are known for leaving your skin feeling tight and dry.

3. Tanning Water is Lightweight

Tanning water feels like water when applied. It’s not thick, greasy, or sticky. It’s lightweight and absorbs quickly into the skin, won’t clog pores, and is ideal for all skin types.

4. It’s Fast Drying

Whereas it can take hours for self-tanners to completely dry and not still feel tacky, tanning water takes only minutes. Fast-drying means no waiting around to get dressed and go!

How Do You Apply Tanning Water?

Tanning Water Application

The first step to the perfect tan is preparation…

If you’ve used a self-tanning product before, then you should be familiar with the process because it’s pretty much the same.


Shave and/or wax – if you are going to shave or wax, do it at least 24 hours prior to application.

Shower – shower to remove dirt, oil, makeup, deodorant, and body products, like lotions, sunscreen and moisturizer. You want to start with a clean slate. There should be nothing left on your skin to interfere with the tan development process.

Exfoliate – while you are in the shower, it’s a good time to exfoliate! Exfoliating will give your skin an even surface. The final tan result won’t be patchy and it will fade evenly like a natural tan.


Saturate – Now is not the time to skimp on product. Apply the tanning water liberally. Your skin should be saturated.

Use a mitt to blend – Once applied, take an applicator mitt and sweep the product all over the skin to blend. Because there are no color additives or cosmetic bronzers added to tanning waters, you need to be careful to apply it everywhere. You don’t want to miss a spot!

And although it’s transparent, the DHA will color your hands if you are using them to spread it, so it’s best to use a mitt. No matter how perfectly applied and natural-looking the rest of your end result, tanned palms are a dead giveaway that it’s a fake and bake!

Spritz – if you are also going for a golden facial complexion, spritz your face like you would with a normal face mist and lightly blend.

Is Tanning Water Good For Your Skin?

While traditional self-tanners often leave your skin feeling tight and dry, the main benefit of tanning water is that it contains skin-loving, hydrating ingredients that leave your skin feeling soft, supple, and glowing.

The texture and viscosity of tanning water allow it to quickly absorb into the skin. These products shouldn’t clog pores, making them ideal for all skin types. This also makes tanning wtaer perfect for use on the face and body, so you don’t need more than one product for specific areas.

Which Tanning Water Is Right For Me?

We’ve put together several tanning water reviews to help you find the right tanning water for your needs. Good luck!

Take Away

Tanning water has catapulted to the top of the list of ‘must-have’ beauty products and has those who’ve tried it singing its praises.

How does tanning water work? – In short, All tanning waters use DHA as the active tanning ingredient. DHA creates a chemical reaction with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin.

And while different tanning waters may use different secondary ingredients, they all contain some sort of skin-hydrating and moisturizing elements to soften your skin while you tan.

One of the best features of tanning water is that it won’t stain your clothes and bedsheets after you apply it. It does this by not having a cosmetic bronzer added as most other self-tanners do.

Whether you are a self-tanner addict, or the drawbacks of traditional self-tanners have turned you off the idea in the past, you owe it to yourself to give tanning water a try!

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).