How Long Does Self Tanner Last?

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Most of us are aware of the dangers of exposure to UV radiation. It’s easy to see why self-tanners are all the rage! If you are looking for a convenient tan with zero sun exposure, a sunless self-tanner is the way to go.

In this article, we are going to look at how self-tanners work, how long they last, and give you some tips on how to make your tan last as long as possible.


How Long Does Self Tanner Last?

A tan from a self tanner usually lasts about 7-10 days. That is about the time it takes for your skin to shed. As you shed dead skin cells, you shed your sunless tan along with them.

How Self Tanner Works

Fake Bake Flawless

When you understand how self-tanner gives you that sun-kissed topical glow, it’s easier to understand how to make it last as long as possible.

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

Self-tanners work by essentially staining the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin to give you that tanned look.

There are lots of different varieties of sunless self-tanners on the market. We have looked at a bunch of them. Begin your search for the perfect self-tanner here:

How Can I Make My Sunless Tan Last Longer?

Here are a few tips to ensure you get your tan not only lasting as long as possible but looking great:

Read the Instructions

Different products will have different instructions in terms of how long to leave it on and when or if to wash it off. Using your product properly is the best way to achieve desired results, and make sure you are getting the longest-lasting tan.


Exfoliation is a crucial first step before you apply your self-tanner or spray tan. You want to get rid of the skin cells that are closest to shedding so your tanner is 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 dry skin, like knees, heels, and elbows. This will prevent these parts of your body from absorbing more self-tanner than the rest of your body, so you don’t get blotches.

Shave the Day Before

Your tan will last longer if you don’t shave right before applying self-tanner. Shaving the day before will also prevent tiny droplets of self-tanner from accumulating in the follicles where you have shaved the hairs, which can cause a freckled or spotty appearance.

Use Gloves or a Mitt

This won’t make your tan last longer, but it will prevent you from staining your palms. Even better, get a tanning mitt and a back applicator. If you want to try to go without a mitt, see our article on applying self tanner without a mitt.

Apply in the Evening

Self-tanner requires about 8 hours to go through the chemical reaction. Just be sure to wait at least 15 minutes after applying your self-tanner to go to bed. You want to avoid staining your bed clothes and sheets!

Don’t Get Wet

While the process of tanning is taking place, it’s best to not get wet, shower, or apply any sort of moisturizer, cream, sunscreen, etc. for at least 8 hours.

Getting wet or applying any sort of lotion will interrupt the process and may result in blotches and crackling. And your tan won’t last as long.

Don’t Exfoliate!

Wait, didn’t you just say to exfoliate?

Exfoliation is great BEFORE you apply your self-tanner. But exfoliating after will remove a lot of the dead skin cells that hold your sunless tan.

Don’t Swim

Swimming in chlorinated or salt water will dry your skin faster. That will cause your skin cells to shed faster, taking your tan along with it.


After your tan is set, make sure you moisturize regularly to keep your skin hydrated.

Though swimming can cause your tan to fade faster, if you moisturize enough, you can counter the drying effects of swimming, so you can still have your tan and swim with it too!

Stay Out of the Sun For 72 Hours After Application

We will go into more detail discussing the risks of self-tanners a bit later.

USE Sunscreen

If you are going out in the sun, self-tanner does not offer protection. You still need to use sunscreen. There’s nothing that will make your tan go away faster than a sunburn, especially if it starts peeling.

How Often Should I Apply Self-Tanner?

It’s advised to reapply after a week if you notice your tan fading.

As far as the use of self-tanner is concerned and how often you should use it; if you just use self-tanner for a few weeks during the summer months, for a special event or a holiday, it’s all good.

However, if you are using a self-tanner all the time to get a year-round tan like you have a secret tropical holiday house that you jet off to every couple of weeks, then maybe you will want to rethink your tanning strategy.

We’ll explain below.

Is self tanner bad for your skin?

The active ingredient in most self-tanners is DHA. DHA has been approved by the FDA as safe for topical use as long as you keep it away from mucous membranes, like your nose, mouth, eyes, etc.

There have however been studies that found that with frequent use, DHA can cause accelerated skin aging and can lower your Vitamin D levels and even cause DNA damage to skin cells. It’s been noted that these side effects increase with sun exposure within the first 72 hours of application – which is why we recommend not going into the sun for that period of time.

That all having been said, DHA is noncarcinogenic.

Frequent use can also lead to clogged pores if you are using it on your face. And like with any topical skin product, you may have a sensitivity or allergy to an ingredient in the self-tanner.

In this case, just use your common sense. If you develop an irritation or any type of adverse reaction to using it, discontinue use immediately.

DHA-free self-tanner is not a risk-free alternative. The active ingredient in DHA-free self-tanners is erythrulose. Erythrulose is similar in structure to DHA and has the same risks and side effects.

Bottom line – self tanner is not bad for your skin and should not have adverse effects, as long as you are not using it all the time.

Take away

How long does self tanner last? 7-10 days. You can make sure you get the most out of your tan and extend it as long as possible, by following our tips above.

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).