How Long Does a Tan Last? What to Know About Keeping—or Fading—Your Tan

How Long Does a Tan Last? What to Know About Keeping—or Fading—Your Tan featured image
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Melanin plays a role in how our skin naturally protects itself from UV damage. As skin is exposed to the sun, it naturally darkens as a response. But once the tan fades, skin begins lightening back to its natural color.

How long does a tan last?

The lifespan of a tan depends on a few factors, including the type of tan, your skin type, and how frequently your skin regenerates. Suntans typically last for 7-10 days before the outer layer of the skin begins to exfoliate naturally. Spray tans can start to fade in as little as 1 day without proper care, but can last up to 10 days with proper care.

Isabel Alysa Vita, founder of Dolce Glow, says a self tan begins to fade between five and seven days. “It’s super important to choose a self-tanner that has skin-nourishing ingredients so you can combat the dehydration DHA causes to your skin,” she says.

Founder and CEO of goGLOW, Melanie Richards, echoes this sentiment. “The duration of a sunless tan can vary depending on various factors, such as the quality of the product used, individual skin type, and aftercare,” she says. “Patchiness comes from not hydrating your skin during your tan, so I highly recommend moisturizing your skin with daily lotion twice a day,” says Vita.

Why won’t my tan go away?

When the cells become damaged with pigment, discoloration that doesn’t fade occurs, leading to a tan that doesn’t fade. In fact, it tends to stay dark unless you choose to have this hyperpigmentation treated professionally.

There is an array of discoloration-busting treatments available, but in order to diminish hyperpigmentation, it’s best to avoid it in the first place by shielding skin from damaging UV rays. Once you find a regimen that works for you—one that includes sunscreen, of course—stick with it to prevent discoloration from returning.

Craving a sun-kissed glow sans the damage? High-tech self-tanners make creating a believable bronze at home easier than ever. Dolce Glow, the tanning brand approved by the Kardashians, JLo, Miley Cyrus and more, is now available to consumers online. For a streak-free bronze, we recommend the Lusso Mousse ($51). To keep your glow intact year round, add Des Nuda Self-Tanning Lotion ($50) to cart, too.

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How to fade a tan at home

While significantly fading hyperpigmentation is only possible with help from in-office treatments and actives, at-home remedies can help fade a darker appearance with continued use. Exfoliating—both chemically and physically—sloughs off the outermost layer of dead skin and can result in a brighter look over time when coupled with the right actives. However, exfoliation also makes skin more susceptible to sun damage, so be sure to follow up with a layer of sun protection.

Skin-brightening ingredients such as vitamin C and retinol—glycolic and azelaic acid also help to fade dark spots—work to add overall radiance to the skin by further exfoliating the skin and encouraging the formation of new, non-damaged skin cells. Not sure where to start? Find the proper ingredients for your skin concerns here, or shop like a doctor with this dark spot–fading guide.

How to remove self tanner

If you’ve been left with more streaks than you can count after an at-home tanning session, don’t panic—and don’t reach for that lemon. “Never ever use lemon juice like the internet likes to suggest,” says Richards. “This will severely alter your skins ph, cause irritation, and may even lead to burn.” Instead, tan-removal products are specifically formulated to help fade self-tanner and erase visible mistakes via gentle formulas.

How to remove self tanner from hands + body

If you’ve just finished applying your tan without a mitt, you’ll want to remove that self-tanner from your hands immediately. Along with washing thoroughly with soap and water, you’ll want to use a washcloth or makeup wipe to ensure every speck has been removed from the palms of your hands and fingernails—and don’t forget between your fingers!

If you need to remove self-tanner that’s already dried on your hands, you have options. To remove self-tanner from the body Richards “only recommends” exfoliation. “When tanning it is always important to value the condition of your skin and its natural oils. Therefore I do not encourage using any scrubs as they can cause tiny micro fissures on the skin’s surface,” she says.

A self-tanner remover like St. Tropez Tan Remover Mousse ($19) uses chemical exfoliation to dissolve the darkened areas. You can also opt for a mechanical buffer like goGLOW’s EXFOLIATE ($20) which allows you to buff away unwanted patches. “Regular exfoliation using a gentle mitt can help fade the self-tanner more quickly,” says Richards. “You’ll also want to make sure to focus on areas with more buildup, such as elbows, knees and ankles.”

For more severe cases, use both.

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How to remove self tanner from face

Because the skin on the face is more sensitive than that on the hands, you won’t want to use the same methods to remove self-tanner from the face. “Use a gentle makeup remover or micellar water on a cotton pad to remove the self-tanner from the face, focusing on the stained areas,” says Richards.

Gentler forms of physical or chemical exfoliation can also help on more severe cases—we like using textured pads like First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($36) or a scrub like Acure Brightening Facial Scrub ($10)—along with some patience. A full-coverage concealer can cover up any remaining dark patches in the meantime.

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How to remove self tanner immediately

If you find yourself in a pinch and need to remove self-tanner immediately, Vita has you covered. “If you ever need a quick fix, my go to is soaking in baby oil in a hot bath for 10 minutes. Does the trick every time!”

Along with the baby oil trick—coconut oil also works—Richards offers up some more skin-saving tricks when you’re in a hurry. “Soaking in a hot bath or taking a long shower can help soften the self-tanner, making it easier to remove,” she says. “Use a gentle exfoliating mitt or washcloth to aid in the process.” If all else fails, “consider reaching out to a professional spray tanning technician who can provide specialized advice and assistance in removing self-tanner.”

To avoid future mistakes, opt for user-friendly formulas such as Salty Face Tanning Foam ($62), a clean, buildable tan that goes on clear for zero transfer, or Luna Bronze Eclipse Tanning Mousse ($36) a velvety option that’s equal parts hydrating and bronzing for a believable finish with zero dry patches in sight.

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