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Help! Why Won’t My Legs Tan?

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Ever notice that your legs don’t tan as easily or quickly as the rest of your body? You might be wondering if it’s just you, or if anyone else in the world experiences this odd and irritating phenomenon? Rest assured, you’re not the only one. Take comfort in the fact that you’re not unusual. There are actual scientific reasons behind your body’s fascinating behavior!

If you’re asking “Why Won’t My Legs Tan?”, we’ve got explanations as to why this is happening, as well as helpful tips on how to solve your predicament.

It’s time to get the tan results you deserve and proudly show off those gorgeous legs. Read on!

Why Won’t My Legs Tan?

Beauty By Earth Self Tanner

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Why do the legs tan differently than other parts of the body? What on earth could cause this to happen?

There are several factors that lead to hard-to-tan legs.

Melanin Distribution

Melanocytes are the skin cells that produce melanin, a natural pigment. Different amounts of this pigment are present in skin, hair, eyes, even fur, and feathers in animals. The more melanin you have, the darker you are. Outdoor tanning and the bright light from UV Tanning Bed Bulbs darken melanocytes, providing the luscious tan that you’re looking for.

Spray tans from a machine and sunless tans do not work using melanocytes, but rather with chemicals instead.

Read more information about melanin here

Melanin is not evenly spread throughout the skin.

The legs do not have as much melanin as other parts of your body. This is why it is more difficult for the skin on your legs to darken either naturally (i.e. in the sun) or chemically (i.e. with the help of tanning products). 

Skin Quality

The skin on our legs is different from say, the skin on our face, belly or hands. Specifically, the skin on our legs is tougher, drier and thicker, making it more challenging for the UV rays to penetrate and activate the melanin. 

Hair Removal

Most ladies aren’t ready to embrace their natural furry qualities. Waxing, shaving, epilating, and laser hair removal are a regular part of our beauty routines.

However, removing hair also removes the top layer of dead skin on our legs.

If you do this too soon after tanning, you’re in a way scraping off your tan! 

It’s recommended that you wait a few days after tanning before you shave or wax your legs. It’s also not a good idea to shave or wax too soon before your tan, particularly if you’re using fake tan creams, sprays, or lotions.

This will cause pores to open up and may result in uneven pigmentation.

Scrubs and Baths

Yes, soaking in a nice, hot tub full of bubbles is a luxury that’s hard to turn down. So is trying out a beautifully scented body scrub.

But excessive heat and friction against the skin can cause our tans to deteriorate quickly, just like hair removal.

Tight Clothes

Speaking of friction, when we walk around all day in skinny jeans and leggings, our skin can’t ‘breathe’ properly.

OK, our skin cells don’t actually breathe.

But our skin benefits from circulation and aeration. In fact, it aids the pigmentation process.

And if we’re using fake tan products like Tan Physics  (reviewed here) or a getting a spray tan? Wearing restrictive clothing shortly afterward can chafe against the skin and rub away some of that carefully acquired tan.

Go with the flow after a fake tan or spray tan!

Uneven Tanning Beds

For those of us who frequent tanning bed salons, it’s important to note that our entire body is not exposed to the same amount of UV light. Tanning beds are manufactured so that most of the energy is released onto the torso, shoulders, and sometimes the face. 

This can be impacted by whether you’re using a tanning bed or tanning booth, and the age of the bulbs.

How do I get my pale legs to tan?

Armed with new knowledge, we can help you answer your next inevitable question: What can we do about this unfair trick of nature? How can we even out this mismatched body?

Suntanning Your Legs

First, if you’re going the natural route, don’t forget that sunblock is still necessary when exposed to the sun’s rays.

Use at least SPF 30.

It will not only protect you from burns, but it will prevent dryness, irritation, wrinkling, dark spots, and skin disease. 

In addition to sunscreen, you need to apply moisturizer regularly to keep your skin healthy and your tan looking great.

To avoid resembling a freshly cooked lobster, remember, easy does it!

Don’t go out during the middle of the day (11:00 am – 3:00 pm), as this is when the sun is at its hottest, most direct position. Tan for short periods of time, do it frequently, and gradually increase. 

Make sure your legs are spread a bit and be sure to rotate to maximize the area exposed to the sun (yes, yes, kind of like a roast in the oven).

To deepen the shade of your legs, you could cover the rest of your body with a towel for part of your time in the sun.

Just don’t fall asleep!

If you prefer to be upright and active out in the sun, throw on a light, long-sleeved shirt and run around in those short shorts!

For more suntan safety tips, check out this article.

Does Wet Skin Tan Faster?

The answer to this question is up for debate. Some claim that water droplets on the skin can magnify the sun’s rays. Others claim this is mere myth.

However, tanning near the water can help accelerate the tanning process. 

The light off a swimming pool can increase your exposure to sunlight.

White and light colored sand on a beach can have the same reflective effect.

As for being in the water itself? Seawater left on your skin contains salt and other minerals that increase pigmentation in the sunshine.

Why not wait before you dry your legs next time you’re swimming in the ocean?    

Using Sunbeds

If you’re into tanning salons, consider using an indoor tanning lotion that will complement the process. Some of these products are specifically designed for legs  to give you a glorious, even tone. 

Onyx Very Sexy Legs Tingle Indoor Tanning Bed Lotion for Hard-To-Tan Body Parts
  • WARNING: For advanced tanners only! Not...
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Try to exfoliate with a scrub at least a few days before the main event. And keep your legs hydrated with moisturizer before and after.

However, don’t moisturize within a few hours before tanning, as this will weaken the absorption of the light energy.

Also, avoid shaving or waxing on the day of the tan and hold off for a few days after. You don’t want to ruin a good thing!

Since tanning beds don’t emit a consistent intensity of light, be sure to position yourself in the tanner to your advantage. Separate your legs so that they are as exposed as possible to the light. Feel free to flip over halfway through so your legs will look even. At some point, you may even consider covering up your upper body in order to give your lower half a chance to ‘catch up’. 

See also:

How do you self tan legs?

You can adjust the tan on your legs specifically by enhancing it with a fake tanning product. Beauty By Earth self-tanner  would be an excellent choice.

You can amp up the tone on your legs to help balance them with the rest of your body.

Self Tanner - With Organic Aloe Vera & Shea Butter, Sunless Tanning Lotion and Bronzer Buildable Light, Medium or Dark Tan for Natural Looking Fake Tan, Self Tanners Best Sellers (7.5oz)
  • Say hello to perfect sun-kissed skin:...
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Be sure to avoid all the no-no’s previously mentioned: shaving too soon before or after, wearing restrictive clothing, forgetting to moisturize. 

See also:


Now that you’re armed with tanning know-how, we hope you’ll be motivated to take great care of your legs.

Get out this summer with the confidence that your tan will be at its peak!

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