Am I allergic to spray tan? Why you may get an allergic reaction to fake tan

Heidi Reid

Posted on October 27 2015


Does your skin react negatively to spray tan?

Sometimes your skin isn't as excited as you are about your bronzing session.  Even if you don't traditionally have a reaction to fake tans, sometimes you get thrown a curve ball and can have an unexpected reaction.

You should know:

When the spray tan is applied, the client sees a bronzer - which is a combination of food grade dyes and colourings, and among other ingredients the tanning ingredient - DHA.   What a lot of clients don't realise is that the colour that is sprayed on is the bronzer, it is not the  tan.  The bronzer gives us the technician a guide to see where we are applying the tan, but also gives the client that instant gratification that they've had a tan.

The colouration in the skin takes time.  It's the same chemical reaction that happens when you have a piece of fruit and cut it and then you leave it on the bench.  The longer you leave the fruit sitting on the bench... same thing for tanning.  It's the dying of the skin on the outer layer of your body. As those skin cells come off, the tan appears to fade naturally because the skin cells usually come off evenly all over your body. 

If you find you have a reaction to tan you need to know a few things:

Understand that there are a number of reasons why you may have experienced a reaction - as a one off or regularly.  Your skin is your biggest organ and it's constantly changing (for this reason we tell clients they can not expect exactly the same tan result each week).  

You may be on medication, have an intolerance to ingredients present in the tan - alcohol if it's in the tan or even DHA - which sadly about 2 in every 100,000 people are allergic to DHA.  

However, most reactions to fake tan (spray tan or self tan) come from contact dermatitis.  The Mayo clinic defines contact dermatitis as:

"a red, itchy rash caused by a substance that comes into contact with your skin. The rash isn't contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable. Possible causes include soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, and plants, such as poison ivy or poison oak." 

When choosing a product choose a low allergen product and know it's source.  All Custom Tan products are extremely low allergen, and as brands we supply material safety data sheets from our chemists explaining the safety of our products and what to do if issues do arise.  

The last thing you should do is take to social media slandering a product.  If a product was faulty, allergic results would not be appearing in localised areas, the y would be appearing all over skin, and all over many customers. Brands like ours for example produce products in quantities of 100 litre minimums or more and are kept in the safest of environments.  

Beware of brands that are not manufactured locally and who potentially sea freight the solution in to the country in bulk.  It's a much cheaper way for them to onsell, but means the shelf life and sustainability of the product can be far less. All of our products are made in Australia, and when we send to our international clients - it's always express air freight and arrives door to door within days.  If in doubt, ask your spray tan provider for their material data safety sheet - and if they can't provide one for you - RUN!

We recommend the following tips for spray tans with sensitive skin:

Sensitive skin tips for sunless tans:

1) Tread gently - You need to prepare your sensitive skin really well before your tan, and then you need to look after your tan afterwards.  Before your tan - gently exfoliate and dry brush your skin to remove excess tan build up and dead skin cells.   Do not scrape your skin harshly.  A well soaked body can be thoroughly exfoliated using a natural scrub.  A great product for preparing your skin is the exfolimate which uses just water to remove dead skin cells. Exfolimate  - available here

2) De-fuzzing - Ensure that any waxing or shaving is done 12-24 hours prior to your tanning session.  You don't want open pores, nicked skin etc.  

3) Choose wisely - Trying a low percentage tanning ingredient is always a good idea when you decide to give sunless tanning a go.  A gradual tanning product, such as the Travel Tan, contains a 24 hour hydrating moisturiser, to prevent your skin drying out too much, and has less tan ingredient than a spray tan solution.  This allows you to build a gradual tan to test for any sensitivities.  


4) Patch test - Any spray tan technician who is professional and serious about having a lasting relationship with a client will first thoroughly brief them on tanning.  All Custom Tan technicians are provided with Client Disclaimer Forms which provide information for clients on how tanning works, and also suggests that if they suffer skin sensitivity, we recommend a patch test.  By doing a patch test, we apply a small amount of sunless tan either behind the knee or behind the ear 24 hours before the tan appointment. 

5) Ask the experts - Speak to your medical professional about the ingredients in the sunless tanning product.  Custom Tan lists all ingredients on our website, and if in doubt, take the list of ingredients to a doctor or pharmacist and ask for their advice.  

6) Wash the tan off as quickly - After your tan application, we suggest you shower as quickly as possible after application.  Ideally no more than 2-3 hours.  While you may only achieve a light colour change in your skin, a light tan is more preferable than a red dotti complexion.  Less is always more with tanning, and we believe it's much easier to add than to subtract when it comes to tanning.  If you find your skin has tolerated well, then feel free to leave the solution on longer next time, or increase the percentage of tanning ingredient.  Remember your tan will take around 8 hours to fully develop, so the first shower should be a lukewarm rinse to get the bronzer off.  Don't lather a soapy wash, or shampoo your hair - just shower until the water runs clear.   If you do need to use soap, choose something natural like this goat's milk and honey sls free option.

Does this help understand how to best tan with sensitive skin?  Do you have any other tips to share for sunless tanning sensitive skin.

Protect the skin you're in! 


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1 comment

  • Shannon@ my2morrows: November 01, 2015

    This is really interesting! I’ve reacted before, but a long time ago. Xx

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