As summer comes to a close, I’d like to spray-tan. What’s stopping me from extending the joy of sun-kissed skin is my fear of turning striped. I mean, isn’t that a risk if I get into the bathtub during the week that my spray tan is at its best? I decided to investigate this important question.
After researching whether you can take a bath with a spray tan, here’s what I found: Though most spray technicians recommend a shower, a bath will be fine as long as the water is tepid, the soaking time is quick, you avoid bar soaps and you only rub your skin gently with a cotton cloth. No loofas or heavy scrubbing allowed. The goal is to avoid any skin exfoliation. Also, you can increase the longevity of the tan by bathing with moisturizing, paraben-free sulfate-free soaps.
This information comes as a great relief since I know I couldn’t last the week without a bath. It’s how I relax and take me-time to the next level. And honestly, in my case, a shower is no substitute. But as it turns out, there is quite a lot to know about the interaction of your spray tan with water, if you’re determined to prolong the summer glow that you paid for.
When to Bathe or Shower after a Spray Tan
One of the hardest parts of spray tanning is waiting the recommended amount of time before washing off the bronzer. While an average wait is about 7-8 hours, there are express airbrush solutions that require only a 2-4 hour wait, and there are other spa solutions that require up to 24 hours. If you are going to a salon, be sure to tell the technician what tone you are aiming for—if going dark, you’ll want to take particular note of the recommended time for washing, since if you extend beyond it, you may risk turning the color of a pumpkin.
The time you wait before rinsing off, whether in a bath or shower, will impact not only the ultimate skin tone but also the number of days that you can expect your tan to last. That said, I cannot stress enough that you should clarify your goals with your spray technician. If it’s Monday night and you’ve got a wedding on Saturday, you’ll be awfully disappointed if you’re back to your paper pale tone by Friday night.
For an example of the metrics that can be impacted by the length of time you wait, let’s look at how Third Coast Tanning in Corpus Christi, Texas calculates the effects of one its solutions:
Rinse after Spray
Days Tan Lasts
|Within 6 hours||3-5||Light|
|Within 8 hours||5-7||Darker|
|After 12 hours||7-10||At risk of turning orange|
It may go without saying, but during the waiting period before your first rinse, you want to avoid all sources of water. This includes sweating at the gym! And it includes getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm without an umbrella, unless you don’t mind looking like a tiger or maybe a Jackson Pollack work of art. During the waiting period, don’t wash your face—or your hands for that matter. The safest way to handle this is to get your spray tan just before bed. Sleep through the waiting period and rinse in the morning.
When you do take your first post-spray-tan bath or shower, some of the bronzer will drain into the tub. This is to be expected. You may be worried that you asked for a dark tan, and now it’s all running down the drain. Fear not! As long as you waited the recommended amount of time, your spray tan technician likely factored in the runoff and you’re still on course for the desired outcome.
But while you are good to go, your bathtub is now looking orange and awful. You won’t want to rush off to work and come back to clean it later. That will let the color set. Instead, squirt some shampoo onto the tub and give it a quick rub with cloth and warm water. But make sure you cover your hands with gloves to prevent the shampoo from streaking the color on your hands! Not every shampoo will do that, but just in case. If the shampoo doesn’t work, The Bathtubber has plenty of other advice on how to clean your bathtub and turn it white again.
Can I Wash My Hair?
So a few things here:
- To be safe, you’ll want to wait 24 hours before using shampoo or conditioner.
- Use paraben-free, sulfate-free products that won’t wash away your tan. We like Hope aloe + dewy moss from The Right to Shower.
- If you usually wash your hair in the bath, you won’t want to be soaking in sudsy water for an extended period of time. So enjoy your bath. Then, if possible, rinse out your shampoo in the shower.
Exfoliation is the Enemy
You probably have some vague idea of what exfoliation does. It removes dead cells from the outer layer of your skin. This happens naturally when your skin becomes soft and warm. And while there are many ways to exfoliate your skin, you’ll want to stay away from them all for the duration of your spray tan. That’s because if you exfoliate the top layer of skin, the spray tan will disappear with the skin cells.
Here is what you want to avoid:
- Hot sudsy water, whether in a long bath or long shower
- Anti-bacterial or deodorant bar soaps or shower gels
- Chlorine, especially in a hot tub
- Rubbing your skin with a towel.
- Applying facial masks and scrubs
- Shaving with pressure. When you shave use a new razor and go lightly.
You get the idea. You need to treat your skin gently and preserve the outer layer.
The good news is that if you’re a bath aficionado like myself, there’s enough anecdotal evidence to support the fact that a quick tepid bath without any scrubbing will not harm your tan in any way, so long as you’ve waited the correct amount of time.
All this said, while you don’t want to exfoliate after the tanning solution is applied, you do want to thoroughly exfoliate in the days leading up to getting your sunless tan. Why? You want to create the smoothest surface possible. Uneven patches of dry skin on your elbow or knees will hold more of the solution and turn darker, leaving you like a patchwork quilt.
One the very best ways to prepare your skin for a spray tan is to give yourself a Turkish bath at home.
However, if you use exfoliating scrubs before your spray tan, be sure to triple rinse off the residue. There should be no foreign products on your skin when you go for the treatment.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
If exfoliation is the enemy of the spray tan, then moisturizing is the enemy of exfoliation. Let that sink in.
To retain the outer layer of skin with your spray tan on it, moisturize all day long, the more the better. You’ll want to use a paraben-free, sulfate-free moisturizer for the best results. Avoid moisturizers that contain paraffin, mineral oil, or petroleum. Many spray tan technicians agree that Dove and Curel moisturizers are especially harmful to prolonging a tan. A natural, one-ingredient moisturizer that works wonders is regular coconut oil that you can get at the grocery store.
For more on how to moisturize, see Expert Advice for How to Hydrate Your Skin in the Tub.
One extra word of caution: If you’re the kind of person who pees in the shower, don’t! At least not in the first rinse after your tan. The ammonia in your urine will leave tracks that you’ll be hardpressed to explain away the next time you wear shorts or a skirt.
Will a spray tan cover scars? Yes, a spray tan will cover scars and acne. Knowing how to apply makeup in conjunction with your spray tan can really do a magic trick and make your scars nearly invisible. However, before you get spray tanned, be sure that you don’t have any product like concealer still clinging to your scars. If you do, be sure to thoroughly wash off the area and dry it first. You want the spray tan solution to adhere to the scar as smoothly as possible.
Can I make my spray tan last longer? In addition to moisturizing frequently, you may want to try a tan-extending product. This way, as the spray tan fades, the tan extender picks up the slack. Elle Magazine recommends Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water. The product comes in 3 shades: light, medium and dark. It takes 4 hours to set work its magic, and it will keep your skin looking sun-kissed for days longer. Of course, carefully read the directions that come with the product and select the shade that will match the spray tan you’ve already got.
What if I’m on vacation and I want to swim? This is a time for deep philosophical thought. Did you get your spray tan so that you would look good on vacation? Or did you get your spray tan so you would enjoy your vacation? If it’s the former, then perch yourself on a beach chair with a pina colada, and be sure to post lots of selfies. If it’s the latter, consider this: Your spray tan might start to fade sooner than if you’d stayed put, but what will you remember years from now? Go ahead and take the plunge.