Can You Spray Tan with Acne? (Or Can Spray Tan Cause Acne)

women with acne and spray tan

If you are a long-term sufferer of acne or have sensitive skin, you might be asking yourself, ‘will a spray tan make me break out?’

Whilst there are some important things to think about when spray tanning with acne-prone skin, the good news is, there are steps you can take to avoid breakouts and enjoy the benefits of sunless tanning products.

Spray tans will not cause acne in people with generally clear skin, but certain spray tan products could lead to a flare up in people with sensitive skin.

You can avoid this problem by choosing the right sunless tanner products and maintaining a good cleansing routine.

Let’s take a look at what acne is, how spray tan could make acne worse, and how to spray tan on acne effectively and safely.

What is Acne?

If you didn’t know acne occurs when there is a build up of excess sebum in the pores or hair follicles. It can also be caused by a build up of oils and dirt. According to the Mayo Clinic, acne can appear in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples.

Whilst acne is most common in teenagers, because of the huge hormonal shifts we all go through at that age, acne can occur in people of all ages and for some it is a long-lasting condition.

Long-term acne can be treated with medications and by using specific skincare products recommended by a dermatologist. People who suffer with long-term acne normally have to be more careful with what they put on their skin, as products might cause a flare up.

Long-term acne can have an effect on people’s self-esteem, so if you are suffering from acne and worry about your appearance, see a dermatologist for product or medication recommendations. They should be able to tell you what chemicals to avoid in the products you use and perhaps prescribe something to help you keep it under control.

Can Spray Tan Cause Acne?

So, are spray tans bad for acne? If you generally have clear skin, going for a spray tan is very unlikely to cause acne. However, if you already suffer from acne, there are some things to take into consideration. Let’s take a look at how this might happen.

Ingredients That Dry Your Skin

Some spray tanning products use chemicals and alcohols designed to dry out your skin. These ingredients help to make a tan appear darker when applied. However, if you have acne-prone skin, your body’s reaction to the dryness will be to over-produce oils in order to compensate. This can lead to a flare up of acne.

Ingredients That Clog Your Pores

I often get asked, ‘do spray tans clog pores?’ and the short answer is, they can do. Some spray tanning products and lotions contain ingredients that are designed to help keep your skin hydrated, but in people with acne-prone skin, can clog the pores and lead to breakouts. Coconut oil, for example, is a common ingredient in tanning lotions, which can lead to pore clogging.

Lack of Cleansing

There is a fear amongst sunless tanner users that cleansing the skin will wash the tan away. Whilst this fear is understandable, skipping your cleansing routine is a big no-no if you have acne-prone skin. It is essential to cleanse out any dirt or oils that have built up over the day before you go to bed. Gentle cleansing will not ruin your fake tan, so don’t skip it!

Can You Spray Tan with Acne?

The good news is that long-term acne sufferers can absolutely use spray tan and other sunless tanning products successfully and without leading to breakouts. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to protect your sensitive skin.


Exfoliation is an essential step before using a sunless tanner because it provides a smooth surface for the product, avoiding streaks and unevenness. However, traditional ‘scrub’ style exfoliators can be very harsh on the skin and cause irritation and acne breakouts.

If you have acne-prone skin, try using a chemical exfoliator instead, which does the job of an exfoliating scrub without the aggressive scrubbing.

Another option is to find a very gentle exfoliating scrub that is made from natural ingredients (we should all be avoiding microbeads anyway!). Some natural ingredients like oats and charcoal are becoming more popular in exfoliation products, and are much gentler on the skin, meaning much less likely to lead to a flare up.

We Recommend: Paula’s Choice Exfoliant

Check the Products

When choosing your sunless tanner product, whether you plan to use it at home or in a salon, check the ingredients for things that might lead to an acne breakout. If you have been to a dermatologist and have a clear idea of what ingredients you should avoid, this step will be fairly easy. Salons will always be happy to show the products they use for you to check the ingredients.

If you are unsure about what ingredients to avoid, as a general rule, artificial fragrances, alcohol, and heavy oils like coconut oil are the big ones to look out for if you have acne-prone skin. If you find a product that uses natural and gentle ingredients, it should not lead to a breakout.

Patch Test

It is always a good idea to do a patch test before applying product all over your skin. This is a truth that goes beyond tanning products and acne-prone skin. Hair salons insist on patch-testing before using hair dye, to check that the client is not allergic to the products. It is a good idea for sunless tanner products, too, and especially if you have sensitive skin.

To do a patch test, choose a small area of skin (most people choose a place on their back that is easy to cover if the skin does not react well) and apply the product as you normally would. Leave it for a few hours before rinsing with water.

If you don’t see a bad reaction in your skin that you have patch-tested, it’s a good sign that the product is going to react well on your skin.

Cleanse, Moisturize, and Minimize Pores

Once you have applied the spray tan, lotion, or mousse, you must keep up your cleansing routine to keep your pores clear.

As a spray tan friendly cleansing routine, I recommend using a gentle cleanser with natural ingredients in the evening before bed. Wash off the cleanser with cold water to tighten the pores, and then apply a moisturizer to keep skin hydrated.

To avoid spray tan in pores, it is also a good idea to use cold water to tighten the pores just before your spray tan. This will avoid too much product sinking in and clogging them. 

Don’t forget to check our article covering – does tanning help acne.

Related Questions

Will a Spray Tan Cover Back Acne?

Spray tans can help to cover acne scars or things like stretch marks, but will not cover active whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. If you suffer from acne on your back, take the aforementioned steps to avoid spray tans worsening the problem.

If you have scarring that you are self-conscious about, but your skin hasn’t broken out in a while, a spray tan will help to lessen the appearance of the scars.

Does Self-Tanner Make Your Face Break Out?

The face is one of the most sensitive areas of the body in all people, and for people with acne-prone skin, it can be the most common area for breakouts.

You can patch-test on your neck if the skin on your face is particularly sensitive. The steps to avoid breakouts mentioned is this article need to be followed diligently if you are worried about a breakout on your face. But choose a gentle self-tanner product and keep up your cleansing routine, and everything will be fine.

Don’t forget to check out our article comparing both spray tan and a real tan – spray tan vs real tan.

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