Do You Need To Wear SPF Over Self Tanner?
By Emma McNab
October 19, 2022
Self tanner does many things: it boosts our self-esteem, it gives us that post-vacation glow, and it gives us a healthy golden color that nobody needs to know came from a bottle. But one thing a self tanner can’t do? It can’t protect you from sun damage.
While self tanner does technically protect you from unnecessary sun damage (in the sense that you can achieve a bronze color without having to expose your skin to UV rays) there’s no SPF in most self tanners. This means that you’ll need to apply an SPF regularly to ensure that you protect your skin from sunburn, aging, and dangerous skin cancers.
In this article, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about SPF and self tanner: how to apply each product, when to apply each product, and how you can enjoy your sunless glow while also protecting your skin from the sun. Let’s get started!
Why You Still Need to Apply SPF After Self Tanner
So, why do you still need to apply an SPF after applying your self-tanner? Here are just a few reasons that SPF is an essential, un-skippable step in your self-care routine:
Most Self Tanners Don’t Contain SPF
While certain self tanners might have hydrating benefits or other skincare benefits, most won’t come with SPF protection. If you’re going to be on the beach, or traveling to a hot country to enjoy the sunshine, a self tanner won’t be able to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Many believe that having darker or tanned skin = reduced sun damage, but this simply isn’t true. Direct sun exposure, even when wearing self tanner, can lead to premature aging, sunburn, and certain skin cancers. This applies to all types of self-tanner: spray tans, at-home self tanning products, and gradual tanners.
Any SPF Benefit is Temporary
While most self-tanners won’t contain sun protection benefits, some formulas might contain a small amount of SPF. In this case, you’ll still need to apply SPF when in the sun: this is because any SPF in the self tanner formula will wear off after a few hours, and you’ll need to keep reapplying your tanner in order to continue to protect your skin. Re-applying self tanner every few hours is likely going to give you a much deeper color than you initially intended, so it’s best to simply stick to a traditional SPF.
Will SPF Ruin My Self Tanner?
This is a common question, for which my answer is simple: no! However, sunburn, irritation, and redness caused by sun exposure might. Read on for tips on how to apply an SPF without ruining your self-tanner. Spoiler alert: it’s super easy!
How to Apply SPF Without Ruining Your Self Tanner
The key to applying SPF over self-tanner is simple: find a self-tan-friendly formula, and apply it the right time:
Wait 12-24 hours
The best time to apply SPF is around 12-24 hours after your self tanner application. In general, we recommend waiting around 8 hours for your tan to develop, after which you can take a brief post-tan shower and continue with your everyday activities. However, when it comes to applying SPF, 12-24 hours allows your skin the time to adapt to your self tanner; some SPFs are incredibly heavy-duty, and might smudge your self tanner if you apply it too early.
It’s also incredibly important that you give the DHA in the self tanner some time to develop, so that it won’t interfere with the UV filters in your SPF. DHA (also known as dihydroxyacetone) is the chemical in self-tanner that gives your skin that golden color; it attaches to the amino acids in your dead skin cells and creates a bronze, golden pigment. But DHA can interact with UV filters, potentially rendering your SPF ineffective. To ensure safe protection from the sun, make sure it’s been at least 12 hours since your self tan application – you’ll also want to ensure that you’ve rinsed off any guide color before applying your SPF.
Choose a self-tan friendly formula
As I mentioned above, certain SPFs are known for their thick and heavy formulas, which aren’t necessarily compatible with fresh self tanner. SPFs can also leave a white cast, which can interrupt the look of your tanner – especially if it’s applied too early in the post-tan period. Ideally, you’ll want to look for an SPF that is lightweight on the skin: SPF mists are ideal for this, as they’re lightweight and easy to apply without dragging on the skin. For best results, choose an oil-free broad-spectrum SPF, and try to opt for SPF30-50 for ultimate protection.
Moisturize Every Day
Once you’ve applied your self tanner, the best way to prolong your golden color is to moisturize every day. Moisturizing your skin will keep your tan smooth and glowy, and will make sure that any tanner won’t attach itself to any dry patches or flaky bits of skin that develop following application. But don’t forget that you’ll still need to apply SPF every day, too! SPF should be the last step in your body care routine, after applying moisturizer.
The Bottom Line
It’s simple: sun damage is an overall net negative for your skin. We’re not just talking skin cancer or aging: sun damage can also contribute to a lack of skin elasticity, uneven skin texture, as well as dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Despite enduring myths, self tanner is not going to give your skin any extra protection from the sun. The only way to protect yourself from sun damage is to apply a broad-spectrum SPF on top of your tanner, especially if you’re going to be on the beach or exposed directly to sunlight.
If you follow the steps above and apply your SPF after your tan is fully developed, it won’t impact the look or feel of your final color. You’ll enjoy a gorgeous sunless glow, and protect your delicate skin from UV damage at the same time. Win-win!