• Skintel Ltd

Why do you make me so dry?

Let’s talk about fake tan

I recently asked on one of my Instagram stories if people use fake tan on their face and I got a real 50/50 split between yes and no. I personally do put fake tan on my face ,however, I have always found that no matter what tan I use my face (at very least) often ends up feeling dry post tanning session.


I decided to contact a few of the people who said ‘Yes’ to find out how their skin feels when they apply the tan to the face. I then contacted some of the ‘No’ voters to find out why they don’t apply fake apply it on their face. What was very interesting is the answers for both where very much the same:

- Make the skin feel dry

- I get really bad black heads

- Gives me spots


Due this these responses I thought it would be a good idea to research exactly what fake tans do to the skin. I actually started off this research just for my own personal knowledge, as I didn’t actually know myself the scientific reasons as to why everyone seems to feel so ‘dry’ after fake tanning, but as always, I am here to educate and share my knowledge.

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients and science behind our very much beloved fake tan’s.

Fake tans work by reacting with your skin's outer layer, which is mainly comprised of dead skin cells. This is known as the Maillard reaction. This is the same reaction that occurs when cooking and baking. It does this because the DHA (dihydroxyacetone) reacts with amino acids in dead skin cells to produce chemicals called melanoidins. The melanoidins absorb light, and this results in them appearing brown on the skin.


Tanning lotions may contain up to 15 per cent DHA, but that seems to be super rare and even professional tans sit within the one to five per cent range. But basically, the higher the percentage, the darker the tan.

Some tans used a plant-based tanning agent called Erythrulose, works in a very similar way too DHA, lacks the common biscuit smell and has been shown to be less streaky after application. Erythrulose is often found mixed with DHA, and rarely used alone in fake tans as it typically; takes longer to develop, has a less intense colour and doesn't last as long.

Other than the main ingredients DHA and Erythrulose, some tans also may contain penetration enhancers, such as ethanol alcohol, which are designed to speed up or deepen the tanning process.

If your tan develops in 2-4 hours, then it will have a higher DHA %. If your tan takes 24-48 hours to fully develop then your tan will have more Erythrulose. If you have a 1 hour tan then your tan is probably very high in DHA, as well as performance enhancing alcohols. Quite simple once you narrow it down right!

So why do we all feel a little dry post glow up?


The reason why many of you feel very dry after fake tanning is because the Maillard reaction causes oxidative stress in the superficial layers of skin, which is much like the type of damage you would usually get from pollution. This kind of oxidation is linked to ageing because of the drying effect it has on the skin. It can also damage the skin cells causing free radicals which then in turn cause havoc on your healthy cells and damage them. This damage continues to happen as healthy cells causing fine line, wrinkles and loss of volume.

Typically, any kind of alcohol can disrupt the skin's barrier, increasing moisture loss and making skin more vulnerable to pollutants. This can result in dryness, irritation, breakouts and eventually lead to wrinkles if you’d not replace what the skin has been stripped of.

Why does drying the skin out lead to black heads and/or breakouts?


When your skin gets to dry sometimes your skin cannot shed properly as your cellular turnover can be temporarily slowed down. When dead skin cells don’t exfoliate off properly, they can get trapped in a pore, it can then be mixed with oil, dirt and debris which causes spots, or if the mixture oxidises, blackheads.


It can also cause breakouts because when you strip your skin of its natural protective barrier you skin can work overtime to try and replace what it has been stripped of, therefore it pumps out excess oil to help give itself a protect layer until it starts to function normally again.


It’s worth noting that some might not actually be black heads, its actually where a bit of tan has gotten into a pore and made a sebaceous filament look very dark. I’d heavily advice not to squeeze these as although you may get a bit of oil out you actually make have tanned the pore lining which will make it look darker this is a temporary effect and will go back to normal. Sebaceous filaments are reoccurring and are just a pore filled with oil. Your pores excrete oil to form your skins natural barrier.


Lots of you might be tempted to try find a more organic or natural fake tan product after reading this however from my research you will kind of wasting your time because they all contain DHA, they have just derived it from natural ingredients, such as sugar beets, instead of synthetic types.

There are other options for tanning like wash off tans which contain bronzers rather than skin dying agents, but they aren’t long last and can transfer onto clothes easier. Plus if you live in England like me, there is always a high chance of rain and that can be detrimental to your wash on wash off tan!


Besides - using a fake tan is considerably safer than lying in the sun or and 1000000x safer than using sun beds. Real tanning works by exposing your skin to UV radiation that damages the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer. This is because the ‘tan’ you develop in the sun or on a sun bed is actually your skin own natural defence mechanism against threat. The Sun (UVA & UVB Rays) is a threat to your skin.


Pre and Post tanning advice


Pre tan – I would say you always need to regularly exfoliate your body, but if you don’t then 2 times a week for two weeks (4 full body exfoliations 4 times in 14 days) in the lead up to a good tanning session will have your skin smooth and prepped for tanning. This will allow for a more even product penetration and less likely to get a streaky tan.

Next you need to make sure you are moisturising your skin after exfoliating (ideally every day) this will help keep your cells hydrated, plump and your cellular turn over high which again will help the to ensure a more even product penetration and less likely to get a streaky tan.


Post tanning you really need to look after you skin by locking in some moisture and basically give your skin a nice big drink of after. Having a body moisturiser that is light in weight and high in active ingredients such as Hyaluronic Acid will help you quickly replace what the skin lost and help encourage your skin cells to act normally.


I personally always gently exfoliate directly after tanning (before moisturising) to help loosen any debris in the skin and prevent the formation of blackheads and spots, only do this gently directly after fake tanning or you will pull all your tan of or go patchy.

Most importantly - DONT forget you still always need to be wearing an SPF as fake tan will not protect your skin!

Happy FAKE tanning people!



Lots of Love

Isabelle x

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