Self-tanners are all the rage right now, and for good reason, they are a safe and effective way to get a beautiful summer (or winter) glow. However, have you ever wondered if self-tanners are waterproof, or if you can go swimming with your fake tan fading away?
In this article, we’ll talk about the basics of self-tanners, how they interact with pool and ocean water, and what precautions you can take to keep your tan from fading and your skin healthy.
However, to answer the question right off the bat, most self-tanning products are “waterproof” in the sense that they are not a form of makeup, and will not immediately come off in the water. However, chlorinated water tends to dry out the skin, causing the skin cells holding the tan color to fall off and your tan to fade faster.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk a little bit more about how self-tanners work, if waterproof self-tanners exist, and how you can keep your fake tan from fading while you’re diving into the pool this summer!
Is Self-Tanner Waterproof?
Well, Sort of.
However, in order to understand more completely, we need to get just a super quick understanding of how most sunless tanning products work.
Most quality sunless tanners (Like my favorite) work because of a unique, and safe, chemical called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. DHA is a type of sugar that you can either create synthetically (as you’ll see in many products) or get naturally from things like sugar beets and sugar cane (which is why you can have natural and organic products that still contain DHA).
DHA chemically reacts with the amino acids in the dead skin cells on the outer layer of your skin. This reaction creates a pigment called melanoidin which ultimately darkens forming the tan we’re familiar with from self-tanners.
This is why we have to reapply fake tanner fairly often is because as new skin cells form, the old ones fall off taking the tan with it.
So, self-tanner is waterproof in the fact that you can’t just wash it off through traditional means, and it won’t come off quickly in water. However, it is not waterproof entirely because chlorinated water will cause it to fade at a much faster pace.
Why Does Pool Water Ruin Fake Tan?
Well, it doesn’t always ruin it if you’re careful, but it certainly can cause it to fade quicker, and more unevenly. Since DHA doesn’t tan anything below the outermost layer of our skin, anything that causes that skin to shed faster can ruin our tan. This usually occurs when our skin gets dried out, and the layers start to fall off, which is why moisturizing while self-tanning is so important!
Water and chlorine are both major culprits when it comes to drying out our skin, so lots of swimming, especially in a chlorinated pool, can cause your tan to fade a bit faster. The best way to reduce this effect is to moisturize immediately after getting out of the pool, which we’ll talk about a bit more down below.
Ok, now let’s talk about some of the ways we can help our tan not fade as quickly when we’re going swimming.
How To Prevent Fake Tan From Fading While Swimming
What To Do Before
So there are a few things we can do before going swimming to help our fake tan stick around. First of all, make sure you’re using a quality product, as they tend to develop a better, longer-lasting color. You can check out my Buyer’s Guide if you’re not sure where to start with this. Or, just use this self-tanner that I use, which does a fantastic job lasting through water contact.
Be sure when you are doing your pre-tanning routine that you don’t forget to thoroughly exfoliate the skin. This step is important regardless because we want the self-tanner adhering to the freshest skin cells possible allowing it to last longer. If you’d like, you can also use an exfoliation glove if you really want to do a great job. Then, go ahead and continue on with your normal routine.
Next, make sure that you’ve applied your self-tanner at least 6-8 hours before going into the water (or even showering preferably). This will give the DHA the time it needs to fully develop it’s color so that it doesn’t get washed off prematurely. This is one of the reasons that many people prefer to apply their fake tan before going to sleep!
Also, make sure that you’re well moisturized before going swimming to help keep your skin from drying out. It’s also really smart to use a water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen. This can help protect the skin, but it can also help add a layer of protection to your tan. When we’re swimming around, after a while the water absorbs into the skin, swelling and causing cell separation, ultimately leading to early tan fading. So, look for sport sunscreens that offer good water protection.
Also, whenever the choice is presented to you, try to swim in non-chlorinated water instead of a pool, as these types of chemicals can dry out your skin even faster.
What To Do During
There isn’t much you can do while you’re swimming to prevent your tan from fading, other than trying to limit the amount of type you spend in the water. Whenever you get out of the water or the pool, make sure you pat yourself dry and don’t rub the tower around as this can cause the skin cells to fall off even faster, producing a blotchy looking tan.
I think it’s important to note here that almost no self-tanners contain adequate SPF protection. So although your newly acquired bronze glow may make you feel safer in the sun, it isn’t actually doing anything to protect your skin. So, be sure to use a quality sunscreen to avoid any burning or premature aging.
What To Do After
Once you’re done swimming, the most important thing to do is thoroughly moisturize your skin right away. This is to help keep your skin well hydrated and prevent too much skin from shedding.
You can also use a gradual tan moisturizer like this one from Amazon to both moisturize your skin and apply a new layer of self-tan to keep your color in great shape.
So Do “Waterproof” Self-Tanners Exist?
No, not really. Like we talked about above, when self-tanner is properly applied, the DHA creates a pigment that darkens the skin and can last 3-8 days. So it is waterproof in the sense that it won’t immediately fade away when it hits the water. However, regardless of what you do, swimming for extended periods of time will cause your tan to fade faster as it dries out the skin and speeds up skin exfoliation.
Does Chlorine Or Salt Water Bleach Fake Tan?
This is a common misconception. Nothing in the water is actually “bleaching” your skin or your tan. When it appears that your tan lightens after a short swim in the pool, here is what is actually happening. Water seeps into the skin and between the cells, absorbing and swelling the skin. This swelling stretches out the skin a small amount, which causes the tan to appear a bit lighter as it’s spread over a larger surface area. If you look extremely close you’ll see there are paler skin gaps between the tanned skin cells.
After you get out of the pool and your pat yourself down and the skin begins to dry, the swelling will go down and the skin should begin to darken a bit as it regains its color.
One common reason that people use self-tanner is to gain a beautiful bronze color while they are at the beach or by the pool. So although swimming will cause your tan to fade a bit faster, this really shouldn’t scare you off from enjoying yourself! Just follow the tips I laid out above and apply your self-tanner a bit more often.
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