Spending time sunbathing or in a sunbed can be rejuvenating and refreshing. But then you think of all the chemicals you’ve put on your skin! Moisturizer, Sunscreen, Tanning Lotions, Bronzers, etc.
All of these chemicals, combined with sunlight or UV light and sweat on the skin certainly make me want to take a shower! So how long after tanning can you shower? How long should you wait to shower after tanning? Can a tan wash away in the shower?
We all want to maximize the impact of each tanning session. In this article, I’ll look at the best times to shower after tanning, depending on how you’re going about getting your tan and what system you choose to use.
How Long After Tanning Can You Shower?
For many of us, getting a great golden tan is a long, fairly slow process that requires persistence.
It certainly is for me!
After all the work involved in carving out time, planning, and implementing your tanning sessions, you don’t want to wash all that work away with a quick shower.
And even worse, the dreaded streaky fake-tan look! If you wash off your spray tan or sunless tan too quickly, you run the risk of the ugly, streaky spray tan all over the skin.
The answer to how long to wait to shower after tanning is that it depends on your circumstances. Are you sunbathing? Using a tanning bed? Or using a self-tanning lotion? And what about bronzers, are you applying these?
The amount of time you should wait after your tanning session will vary significantly depending on what method(s) you’re using. It is the same for exercise and tanning.
All of these variables impact when the best time to take a shower is in relation to your tanning session. Let’s look at each individually, but first, a decent solution.
Shower Before Tanning
Starting your day with a shower is ideal.
You’ll clean and moisturize your skin with water, and you’ll be ready for your tanning session later in the day. A shower first thing will open up pores and prep the body for the session to come!
And if you’re using a mild exfoliant, you’ll be further helping your skin (though if you’re heavily exfoliating, you should wait a couple of days before tanning).
After you shower, you should apply a moisturizer to your skin, and potentially a broad-spectrum sunscreen as well, depending on your needs.
These will help protect the skin from the dangers of the sun, and will help keep the skin supple, youthful, and beautiful!
Once you’ve got that done, you can put on any bronzers, self-tanners, etc. and do the tanning session. As you have already showered, you can leave the lotions, accelerators, etc. on the skin for hours after the tan.
This extra time will let the bronzers and accelerators set in the skin, and will further deepen the tan.
After several hours, say 5-6, you can then shower once again and clean off any excess chemical agents on the skin.
Everything will have set by then, and you will have maximized the impact of your tanning session.
The downside to this option is that you still have all those chemicals on the skin after the tanning session.
It may be a mental thing, or a physical one, but many of us often feel the need to shower after the tanning session in order to clean up and refresh.
Shower After Tanning. Why Wait?
Many find that the tanning process takes hours after the tanning session to complete, perhaps up to 24-48 hours! Often differences in skin tone aren’t apparent until hours after the tanning session (and often sunburns don’t fully manifest themselves for hours after unhealthy exposure).
So yes, the skin changes long after the tanning session is complete.
But will a shower shortly after a tanning session impact that process?
If you’re tanning in a tanning bed or outdoors, the UV light is activating the melanocytes in the epidermis — the outermost layer of skin.
Through the process of melanogenesis, these melanocytes then produce melanin and turn the skin a darker shade.
This process is not impacted at all by showering or cleaning with soap and water, and you can’t wash it away.
That said, a shower can cool the skin down more quickly, which could mildly alter the tanning process. Wait for your skin to cool naturally and you’ll maximize your session.
Consequently, if you are solely using a tanning bed with no bronzers, accelerators, or anything like that, you can shower after your skin has cooled, perhaps 20 minutes after tanning.
What About Sunless Tanning Lotions and Bronzers?
Once you start adding in accelerating tanning lotions, bronzers, and the like, the shower timing begins to change.
When you apply an accelerating tanning lotion, regardless of whether it includes a bronzer or not, the tanning lotion will increase the impact of your tanning session.
But these chemicals and agents require some time after tanning for the impact to fully accumulate. Depending on the bronzer or tanning lotion you choose to use, this time period may change.
Most bronzers will give some recommendations of when to shower on the label, so of course, follow that if possible.
In general, though, tanning lotions will continue to darken the skin for 2-3 hours after a tanning session is complete.
Regardless of whether you’re sunbathing or tanning in a sunbed, you should wait at least 2-3 hours to shower if you’re using a tanning accelerator or bronzer.
Brown Water in the Shower
When you shower after applying a bronzer (or take a dip in the pool), you will likely see a brown-shade to the water as it runs off your body.
Don’t worry about this, though. It is the bronzer pigment coming off in the shower, and it is not making the skin any darker.
It is good to remove this coloration after the bronzer has set, as there are fewer chemicals on the skin to clog pores, etc.
The brown water coming off of the body is not the tanning agent itself — that is typically DHA (dihydroxyacetone).
The brown colors are other bronzers, dyes, and natural oils. DHA itself is white. Any brown you see in the water is other dyes and oils.
DHA is a chemical that, when applied to the skin, reacts to the skin cells to produce a bronze color. This process takes 2-3 hours, and the full results manifest themselves generally after about 24 hours.
Once the DHA has been in contact with the skin for a couple of hours, the DHA will have done its thing, darkening the skin.
Washing off the bronzers and tanning lotions at this point will not wash off any of the bronze color of the skin, assuming you’ve waited the 2-3 hours.
Should People Shower After Sunbathing?
If you’re aiming to get your tan old school, using the sun’s rays, it’s best to get your tan in the morning when you’ve got the sun’s rays and the body’s circadian rhythms working together.
But once you’re done tanning outdoors, is it a good idea to shower immediately after?
Again, this depends on whether or not you’re using accelerators, tanning lotions, and bronzers as part of your tanning process. If you’re not, then you should be able to shower or jump in the water shortly after completing your tanning session without any negative impact on the tanning process.
But if you are using tanning lotions and bronzers, then you should wait the 2-3 hours before washing off the tanning lotion.
This will allow for the tanning lotion and bronzer to fully set, and will produce a maximally-effective tanning session.
If you do choose to take a dip in the pool after a tanning session, you can always reapply the tanning lotion once you’re out of the water.
Shower After Tanning Bed
As mentioned above, the amount of time you should wait to shower after a UV tanning bed session really depends on what sorts of lotions and bronzers you use.
If you aren’t using any tanning accelerator or bronzer, you can shower 20 or so minutes after a UV Tanning Bed session. If you are using tanning lotions and bronzers, it’s best to wait 2-3 hours before showering.
As you lay in the tanning bed, you’re exposing your skin to some pretty intense UV Radiation. You’re also sweating a lot, which is altering your skin.
And most of us do use tanning lotions and bronzers when using a tanning bed, because why not?
But the accumulation of all these chemicals can clog pores, cause acne, and harm the skin. For this reason, it’s a great idea to shower once the chemicals have completed their process.
Additionally, the process of tanning and sweating will cause the body to lose moisture, leading to dry, cracked skin.
Remember, the tanning process is really a controlled burn when it comes down to it. So be careful to moisturize and care for your skin in order to keep it supple and beautiful.
Once you’ve let your lotions and bronzers set for the allotted 2-3 hours, a shower will certainly be helpful for the skin!
Showering after Self Tanner and Sunless Tanning
Self Tanners are a pretty different story than tan tanning beds. These sunless tanning chemicals are designed to sit on the body for at least a couple of hours. And unlike tanning lotions, they are not activated by UV Light.
Bronzers work on the body by using dyes and DHA to alter the pigment of skin cells, and they need time and the presence of oxygen to work.
If you shower too quickly after applying a “fake tan” like Tan Physics (reviewed here), Loving Tan (reviewed here), or Mystic Tan (reviewed here), you’ll wash off the tanning solution. This will frequently result in a streaky, unattractive tan, and should be avoided.
As the DHA oxidizes on the skin, it results in that luscious deep golden glow. This process generally takes at least 4 hours to complete after the application of the self-tanner, and you don’t want to halt it with a shower!
However, you should look at the individual self-tanner you’ve chosen, as some self-tanners and sunless tanners recommend not showering for up to 8 hours after application.
For the most part, though, these can be washed off after about 4 hours.
First Shower After Spray Tan
After the 4-hour time frame, the bronzer’s DHA will have had enough time to do its work, and it is safe to shower without causing streaking, or wasting any of the DHA’s power.
Now let’s look at how best to clean the body in that first shower after spray tan application.
How To Wash Your Body after a Spray Tan
We’ve put together a detailed article on showering after a spray tan here. For a quick rundown, here are the basics:
1. Don’t Make the Water Too Hot
You’ve already braised your skin, there’s no need to boil it too! There’s no need to take a cold shower, but it’s a great idea to dial down the temperature so as to not abuse the skin further.
This holds true whether you’re showering after a sunbathing session, a tanning bed session, or using a self-tanner.
2. Don’t Spend Too Long in the Water
There’s no need to take a long, luxurious shower after a fake-tanning session. Instead, hop in the shower, give your skin a nice mild cleaning, and get out. It’s not a great idea to take a bath or a long dip in the water.
The more time your skin is exposed to water, the more likely some of the browning agents will come off in the water.
Also, careful washing your hair with a spray tan.
3. Don’t Use Any Harsh Soaps or Cleaners
Unless you’ve been heavily exercising or otherwise have a need for a thorough cleaning, try to limit your use of soaps and cleaning products. This is especially true of heavily scented, augmented soaps with a variety of other chemicals in them that may further impact the bronzers and self-tanners you’ve applied.
Of course, use soap on the areas that need it, but your post-tanning shower should be more of a rinse-off than a deep clean.
4. Don’t Exfoliate
Now isn’t a great time to exfoliate the skin! Let the self-tanner set on the skin for several days before exfoliating, and most likely the exfoliation process will at least partially remove the self-tanner. This can cause streaking and an uneven finish that nobody wants!
Instead, it’s best to exfoliate a day or so before you begin your self-tanning applications.
5. Pat Yourself Dry
Once you’re out of the shower, there’s no need to vigorously rub off all the water running off your body. Instead, shut off the shower and stand in there for a minute or so, letting gravity take as much of the water off as it can.
Then take a towel, and pat yourself dry as opposed to the aggressive drying of the body that most of us do when we dry off.
The more gently you can dry yourself, the better.
6. Moisturize Once Again
Once you’ve dried off, it’s time to rejuvenate the skin once again with a high-quality moisturizer. A moisturizer will help lock in the color and keep the pores in tip-top shape.
7. Wait to Shave
If you need to shave, it’s best to shave before your tan. If you didn’t, you should wait at least 24 hours to shave after a spray tan. See that link for more tips.
The bottom line is that if you’re using any sort of self-tanner or tanning lotion with a bronzer in it, you want to wait 2-3 hours after application, or your tanning session, before you shower. This will ensure that the bronzers and self-tanners have adequate time to work, and will have fully set on the skin.
Beyond this time frame, these chemicals aren’t doing much of anything and can be safely and gently removed.
Should you be sunbathing or UV-tanning without any bronzers or tanning accelerators, it’s pretty safe to shower shortly after you’re done your tanning session.
There may be a mild benefit to waiting for 20 minutes or so for the skin to fully cool after a session, but that benefit is mild, and the natural melanin production in the skin will not be impacted by showering.
Stay safe, and good luck getting that perfect skin tone!