Is Spray Tan Acne Real?

Anna Denson
Written by
Anna Denson

Hey there, sensitive skin queens!

Like us, you're probably used to searching out beauty practices that protect your delicate, breakout-prone complexion. Cleansers, lotions, even sunscreen...they each need to be carefully chosen.

But have you given a second thought to your sunless tanning products?

It's true that we should all avoid the acne-worsening dangers of actual tanning. So sunless tanning products seem like a promising way to dodge harmful UV rays.

But persistent blemishes might be undermining your faux tan experience. The more you break out, the more tan you want to layer on. But the more tan you layer on, the more breakouts appear!

Could it be? Is spray tan acne real?

Sadly, yes! Spray tan acne is a real phenomenon, and you might have it.

After you've worked so hard to keep your skin clear, that gorgeous fake tan may be contributing to your not-so-gorgeous breakouts!

It's frustrating, but all is not lost. Averr Aglow is here to explain the ins and outs of sunless tanning, how it affects your skin, and how you can create your own clear complexion tanning routine!



How Sunless Tanning Affects Your Skin

First, let's discuss how your skin interacts with tanning products.

There are several different ways to achieve a sunless tan. The most popular are:

  • Spray tanning: Usually done at a salon or spa using a specialized spray gun. Tanning sprays use a chemical called dihydroxyacetic acid (DHA) to change the color of dead cells on the surface of your skin. The more dead cells on your skin, the darker your new skin tone will appear.
  • Self-tanning: Much like spray tan, self-tanning lotion dyes dead skin cells with DHA. It is applied by hand, often with a special mitt (to prevent orange palms).
  • Bronzer: Bronzer is the most temporary tanning option. In fact, it's less of a tanner and more of a daily cosmetic. Instead of dying skin cells, bronzer simply paints over your complexion, lasting until the next time you wash your face.

Seems straightforward enough. But regardless of method, tanning acne-prone skin is actually a tricky business. It’s not easy to hide blemishes beneath that golden sheen!

Tanning to Cover Blemishes

Tanning to cover your angry red breakouts seems like a great idea, in theory. Unfortunately, you won't always get that smooth finish you're hoping for.

There are a few problems that can pop up when trying to disguise acne beneath a fake tan:

  • Dark spots: Are you using an acne face wash? Many topical acne treatments remove your natural oils and cause dry skin, especially washes that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxideDry spots can affect the results of your tan. Remember: dry skin will absorb spray tan and self-tanning lotion more thoroughly, creating a darker look. If you use oil-stripping acne treatments across your entire face, your face may end up tanner than your body. Or if you use spot treatments just on your blemishes, they'll come out extra-tinted like cheetah spots!
  • Light spots: Perhaps you're using a retinoid or vitamin A product. These formulations can cause your tan to fade quickly and result in pale patches wherever the retinoid has been applied. Have you ever accidentally splashed bleach on your dark laundry? Yeah, it’s like that. Probably not the look you were going for.
  • A patchy finish: Taking any oral acne medications, like isotretinoin? Sorry, but they also have skin-drying tendencies and may create a patchy, irregular finish. Faux tanning while on acne medication is not recommended.

Ultimately, trying to hide your breakouts with sunless tanning is a dicey prospect. Don't waste all that time and money on an uneven tan! Get off to the right start with a cleanser that won't dry you out and cause your skin to absorb extra tanner.

Skip the harsh acids and chemicals and choose a gentler option like our Radiant Cleansing Nectar. The Nectar doesn't use any skin-stripping synthetic ingredients, relying on the natural cleansing powers of minerals and botanicals. So your skin can feel fresh, hydrated, and ready to tan!


Averr Aglow Radiant Cleansing Nectar


Do Spray Tans Cause Acne?

The good news: sunless tanning products probably won't cause breakouts in someone with naturally clear skin.

The bad news: if you struggle with acne already, tanning could be yet another trigger setting off your breakouts.

Users with sensitive skin are advised to look out for the following:

  • Pore clogging: Tanning products like lotions and sprays can stop up your pores. Many of these products contain comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients like coconut oil, which are too heavy for acne-prone skin. Clogged pores may also result from a bronzer's temporary tan. If bronzer is your jam, there are a few ways to prevent makeup breakouts.
  • Overly drying: Often, tanning products also rely on dehydrating ingredients like denatured alcohol, which can irritate and dry out your complexion. This kick-starts your oil-producing sebaceous glands, which overcompensate by pumping out extra oil like crazy. So once again, you end up with a greasy face full of blocked pores.
  • Hormone disruption: It's fun to enjoy a tropical scent while you tan. It puts you in a beachy mood for sun-kissed skin! But artificial fragrances are notorious for smuggling nasty chemicals into your skincare, including hormone-disrupting parabens. And when all acne is hormonal in one way or another, the last thing you want is to knock your hormones out of balance!
  • Sun damage: Wait, WHAT? Aren't you using sunless tanner to avoid sun damage? Your heart is in the right place, and sunless tanning is definitely better than laying out by the pool. But tanning products containing DHA can increase free radical damage, weakening your skin's defenses. Plus, users have reported higher rates of sunburn. (Always remember your sunscreen, even over your fake tan!)



One last note. We know that you went to a lot of effort getting that fake tan to look just so. Naturally, you'll be nervous about doing anything that might screw it up!

But please, PLEASE do not skip your cleansing routine. This is a huge problem amongst sunless tan enthusiasts. Fear of washing away your tan can tempt you to skip your other skincare for a few days, but this is a recipe for breakout chaos!

While you're anxiously protecting your tan, your skin is piling up with oil, skin cells, makeup, and other impurities. Without a good cleanse, these start blocking pores all over the place, and it's not long until these clogged pores turn into full-fledged blemishes!


Tips for Tanning With Sensitive Skin

So, what's a girl to do? You don't want to risk the dangerous UV rays from regular sun tanning, but you don't want to smother or strip your complexion with fake tan products that don't meet your skin's needs.

Talk about a rock and a hard place!

Fortunately, a little thoughtfulness can make all the difference for a skin-safe sunless tanning routine. Instead of just grabbing the first tanning product you see, take these steps to create a kinder, gentler tanning regimen.

  • Check the ingredients! Avoid heavy oils, artificial fragrances, and harsh chemicals or alcohols. Instead, choose fragrance-free self-tanning products with soothing ingredients like aloe. At your salon, ask if there are oil-free options for that sleek spray tan!
  • Do a patch test. Concerned about a product upsetting your delicate skin? When in doubt, do a patch test. Apply a little of your new tanner somewhere unnoticeable and let the color develop. If you experience any burning or discomfort, abort mission! This is not the product for you.
  • Exfoliate. This is a self-tanning must, and choosing the right product is critical. Chemical exfoliants and microbeads can tear up the outer layers of your skin. But our Illuminating Essence Exfoliating Mask doesn't play that way! Infused with volcanic ash and silica, it clears away rough patches while depositing nutrients for a smooth, tan-ready finish! And for full-body exfoliation, look no further than our Rejuvenating Essence Body Polish.


Averr Aglow Illuminating Essence Exfoliating Mask and Rejuvenating Essence Body Polish


  • Minimize pores. Exfoliating before you tan is vital. But it can also open up your pores, allowing tanner to penetrate too deep and start forming clogs. To prevent this, use a cold compress or ice facial between cleansing and tanning. The cool temperature will help tighten your pores!
  • Keep up your clear skin routine. We said it once, and we'll say it again: don't try to save your tan at the expense of skin clarity. Be sure to keep up a consistent cleansing routine, even when wearing sunless tanner. Ideally, use a gentle, natural cleanser to fight breakouts without utterly destroying your golden glow.
  • Moisturize regularly. Using a non-comedogenic moisturizer will keep your complexion hydrated and help your skin hold on to its fresh tan. For a dose of rich, clear skin moisture, try our Flawless Nourishment Cream. Its luxurious hydration will keep your skin plump and happy with skin-boosting botanicals like camellia and pumpkin seed oil. It also helps balance oil production and heal breakouts!


Averr Aglow Flawless Nourishment Cream


  • Wear sunscreen. You know this one already. UV rays are bad for your skin. They are prematurely aging, cancerous, and can even make your acne worse. And as cute as your fake tan looks, it is no protection from the sun. So don't forget the sunscreen, ideally a water-based formulation of SPF30 or higher!

If all else fails, save tanning for a special occasion confidence-boost. Seriously! If constant tan maintenance is exhausting your skin or feeding a steady onslaught of acne blemishes, consider stepping down your tanning to an occasional event.

Fancy date? Bring it on!

Monday at the office? Maybe you can go au naturel for a while.

You're stunning with or without! xx

Anna Denson
Written by
Anna Denson
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Anna is a Copywriter at Averr Aglow. A not-so-secret nerd, she loves books with swords and never gets tired of Alien or Jurassic Park. Also a total foodie, she has an unnecessarily large cookbook collection. When not busy writing, Anna travels the world and dotes on her two spoiled cats, Waffle and Fanta.