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Can You Shower After Tanning? – How Long To Wait After Spray Tan?

by  Doris Harris -  Last Updated On 9th August 2021

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As we move into spring and the days start to get longer, it is inevitable that our minds should start to turn towards summer. The time when we get to exchange our heavy coats for sleeveless blouses, thick woollen tights and boots for strappy sandals, and knitted sweaters for floaty summer dresses.

Summer is the time when we start to show off our bare skin, and enjoy the warmer weather. For a lot of people, it’s the time of year for going away on vacation to a hotter and sunnier place. They get to spend a couple of weeks lying by the pool, forgetting all their troubles, and they come back with a glowing tan that has replaced their worry lines, leaving them look younger, fresher, and ready to take on the world.

But for some of us, going away to somewhere foreign isn’t a possibility. For others, we might find that lying by the pool, soaking up the rays, is a disaster for the skin, leaving us red and burnt rather than golden and tanned.

And then there are some of us who just don’t see why we should wait through the rest of the year for that one window of opportunity for beautiful glowing skin. For all of these cases, a spray tan can provide a great alternative to the real thing.

The problem is, how do you make your spray tan last? You don’t want to fork out for a professional spray tan, only to find out that you washed it all off afterwards. Or perhaps worse, that your shower left you looking like a stripy tiger, rather than a tanned goddess. So what you need to know is when you can shower after your spray tan.

In this article, we’ll be looking at how long to wait before you shower after a spray tan, as well as how best to prepare your skin before and afterwards, to maximise that glow. Plus we’ll make sure that you know the right way to wash after your spray tan, and whether or not you can exercise.

So by the end of this, you should be able to make sure that you really make the most of your new spray tan, keeping that tanned glow for the maximum time possible.

Types of fake tan

Okay so the first thing to consider, if you want that year-round tan going on, is what type of fake tan you are going to go for. You can go for a tanning bed, spray tan, or a tanning cream to use at home. Needless to say, the first two are more expensive than the latter, but they also tend to provide better results.

The tanning bed emits ultraviolet radiation to penetrate and tan the skin, using a mixture of UVA and UVB rays, although these days most salons offer beds just with UVA rays. By just using UVA rays instead, they are able to work as high-pressure tanning beds, which produce a darker tan more quickly.

The main problem with tanning beds is that they do require repeated exposure to UV radiation, which can lead to skin damage and in some cases, serious consequences.

Instead of exposing yourself to radiation, or the cost of seeing a professional, you might decide to tan yourself at home with some sort of tanning cream. These can be a great way to achieve that tanned look quickly and with little hassle or expense.

The problem is, it often looks cheap as well. How many times have you seen someone with dark orange streaks on their legs, or strange lines between the fake orange and original white around the hands, or even along the neck line? It is not a good look.

That’s why so many people decide that what they need is a decent spray tan. It doesn’t run the same risks for your skin as the UV exposure on the tanning bed, and nor does it rely on you being a perfect artist with a careful eye for the application of the tanning cream.

Instead, you can just leave it to the experts to cover you in an even all-over tan. A lot of people would argue that this is the best option period, as you aren’t exposed to the harmful sun rays either. But how do you make sure that you don’t ruin the tan once left to your own devices?

Prepare your skin

Your skin is constantly regenerating. In fact, your whole body is constantly changing, adapting and developing, at an infinitesimal rate. One of the places where this change is perhaps the most obvious is the skin.

The regeneration means that our skin is covered in dead cells that fall off, mostly without us noticing. But, this means that if you get a spray tan, your dead cells could take your tan with it when they fall. This would leave you with a patchy tan that would last for far less time.

For that reason, it is super important that you exfoliate well before you go for your spray tan, so that you can get rid of all the dead cells. It’s also important that your skin is well moisturised before you go. You need to provide the spray tan with the best surface possible, which means making it smooth, supple and non-flakey.

If you take care of your skin by exfoliating and moisturising regularly, not just before you go, your skin will have the best chance of achieving an even surface for a smooth, all-over glow.

Use of bronzer

A lot of people think that a spray tan is a substance that is sprayed onto the skin, like paint, and that it lasts until it is washed off. That’s one of the main reasons why so many people are worried about showering after they’ve been sprayed. But we’re here to set the record straight.

Firstly, the part of the spray that tans your skin is actually clear. It is not a paint. You might be thinking that it can’t be the case because you’ve seen the instant change to your skin, or even the way the spray comes off in the shower. But that’s not the tanning ingredient, that my friends, is bronzer.

The use of bronzer makes it much easier to apply than the clear substance that tans exactly because it is visible. This makes it simpler to achieve an all-over even tan, rather than just going over the same bits again and again.

The other reason for the use of bronzer in spray tans is that it provides instant gratification. Leaving the tanning salon the same color you entered just wouldn’t be the same. It’s nice to feel like they had an effect.

How does spray tan work?

Okay, so if the color that is sprayed onto the skin at the salon is just bronzer, how does a spray tan leave your skin tanned for days? The short answer? Science.

The tanning ingredient is called dihydroxyacetone, or better known as DHA. It’s not as scary as it sounds though. It is usually derived from the fermentation of plant sources, like sugar cane or sugar beets. The DHA reacts with the outer layer of the skin in a process called the Maillard Reaction, and that is what causes the brown coloration.

Around 40% of the tanning process occurs in the first two hours after the spray, but the color will continue to develop throughout the day, and can take 18 – 24 hours to take full effect. This means that if you shower immediately, you will only get a limited effect from the spray tan. Equally, you would never need to leave it more than 24 hours.

We know that your skin can feel dirty or sticky after a spray tan, and of course you can shower whenever you want, but for those first few hours, your skin is still developing its new color. If you can, it is best to leave it on as you sleep, so that it can have the full amount of time, but we understand why you might not want to do that.

You also need to be wary that the effect of the DHA on the skin can leave it a little vulnerable in the first 24 hours after it’s been sprayed on, so be extra careful of sun damage to your skin in this window.

How to wash afterwards?

As we explained above, the spray tan takes a few hours to sink in. That means that you need to take it easy with your first wash after you’ve been sprayed. Don’t go in there scrubbing away at your skin, because you’ll just wash away that tan you’ve paid for. And if you didn’t exfoliate before, you’ll be rubbing away your dead skin cells too, leaving no tan in sight.

Instead, you need to just have a light rinse. This means no hot bubbly baths or piping hot water, no exfoliating scrubs, and no hair washing. You even need to be careful about your use of soap. This might sound extreme, but the products that are commonly used for soaps, shampoos and conditioners, the ones that foam up, tend to break down oils.

These products would all work against your tan, and in some cases they could irritate your skin a bit too, as it may be a little vulnerable at this point. You can still use soap, of course, but maybe try to stick to the key (less visible) areas, and don’t scrub as vigorously either.

It’s best to use lukewarm water too, and keep it a bit shorter than you might sometimes go for. If you take these steps, you shouldn’t have a problem with your spray tan staying on and remaining unstreaky.

You are likely to see a lot of brown water when you shower after a spray tan, but that’s okay. That’s the bronzer that they put in, rather than the DHA which will still be acting away, building that glow on your skin.

Once you have finished showering, you again need to be light with how you dry. Don’t go in for the vigorous rub, but instead, keep it to a light pad. That should help the spray tan to stay on the skin rather than be scrubbed away, so it can continue to act.

Post-spray tan care

Just as it is important to make sure that you exfoliate your skin well before you go for your spray tan, it’s also important that you take care of your skin after you have received your spray-tan. And the main way to do that? Moisturise.

You want to keep your skin smooth and supple, without it flaking away too much. So for that, you need to keep moisturising regularly, especially after showering. On the flip side, don’t go exfoliating it until you are ready for that tan to leave. You shouldn’t need to exfoliate so frequently anyway, so it probably won’t be a problem, but it’s always worth mentioning.

Can I exercise afterwards?

We know that once you’ve got that all-over glow, you’re going to want to show it off. And where better than the land of the fit, the gym. Once your spray tan has settled into your skin, you can of course go out and exercise. In fact, that’s a great idea.

But, in those first 24 hours after you’ve been sprayed, it’s best to give any activity that’s going to make you sweat a miss. The sweat will work away the tan just like a shower would, but more intensely as it is all over your skin. So if you’re a keen gym-bunny, maybe make sure you hit the weights before you go for your tan, so you can wait until the next day to go again.

We want to make a quick shout out here that if you left the tanning salon with an even-looking tan and then later it looks streaky, this is probably because of your showering/ sweating/ dead skin rather than the fault of the tanner.


So there you have it. Showering is fine, but it would be better if you could wait 18 – 24 hours after you’ve received your spray tan, just to make sure that you can get the maximum effect. For that first shower, make sure you keep the water lukewarm and don’t scrub too hard or use particularly foamy products or wash your hair.

Then afterwards make sure you do a light pat down with the towel and moisturise. And don’t be afraid of the water turning brown, that’s just the bronzer rather than your tan. Follow that advice, and you should be good to strut around showing off an even tan wherever you please, even if you haven’t seen the sun in months!

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