While using tanning agents can be a safer alternative to suntanning for many people, the products may cause irritation and flare-ups for those with eczema.

A white woman with eczema during a spray tan application.Share on Pinterest
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If you’re one of the millions of people who live with eczema, you probably know firsthand how important it is to avoid anything that will trigger your symptoms and lead to a flare-up.

For many people with eczema, sun exposure is one of those triggers — which, naturally, makes it almost impossible to get a tan. But if you’re someone who appreciates the look of sun-kissed skin, you may be wondering if it’s still safe to use fake tanning products if you have eczema.

Below, we’ll discuss how to choose a self-tanning product when you have sensitive skin or eczema.

Some of the most commonly reported triggers in people with eczema are skin care products containing harsh ingredients and chemicals.

Self-tanners and bronzers contain an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This is a chemical that reacts with amino acids in the skin to produce a “bronzed” look. As an ingredient in self-tanning products, DHA is generally considered safe and nontoxic.

While there isn’t much research on DHA and eczema, even people without eczema have reported side effects like rashes after using products with DHA. Because people with eczema have sensitive skin, they might be more likely to experience these side effects.

Some self-tanners and bronzers also contain other ingredients that can trigger a flare-up, like fragrances, dyes, and other harsh chemicals. People with eczema who are sensitive to these ingredients may find that these self-tanning products irritate the skin and lead to symptoms.

Other common eczema triggers

Eczema flare-ups can happen for any number of reasons, and everyone’s triggers are different. Still, there are some common triggers that can cause symptoms to flare up, including:

  • having dry skin
  • food allergies
  • environmental allergens
  • extreme temperatures
  • emotional stress
  • hormonal changes
  • illness and infections
  • drinking or smoking
  • harsh chemicals and fabrics
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If you’ve noticed that your symptoms are starting to flare up after using a self-tanning product, here are a few ways you can soothe your skin:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) options: Depending on how severe your flare-up is, there are plenty of OTC options that can help relieve your symptoms. Some of these options include hydrocortisone cream, antihistamines, and other moisturizing and hydrating lotions and creams.
  • Prescription medications: Sometimes, eczema symptoms don’t respond to OTC treatments. This is where prescription medications come in. Commonly prescribed eczema medications include steroids, antibiotics, and other oral, topical, and systemic options.
  • At-home approaches: Even though medications are usually effective at reducing symptoms, at-home treatments can be helpful, too. Some of these approaches include taking daily lukewarm baths, moisturizing often, and wearing loose clothing.

It’s also helpful to write down the ingredients in the fake tanner you used. This way, you have an idea of which skin care ingredients to avoid in the future.

When you have eczema, there’s always a risk of a flare-up when you’re putting a new product on your skin. It’s a good idea to do a patch test on your wrist or elbow before trying a new product on a more sensitive area like your neck or face.

Why don’t I tan where I have eczema?

One of the most common symptoms of eczema is a change in skin pigmentation. For some people, eczema can cause darkening of the skin, or hyperpigmentation, while others may notice lighter patches of skin, or hypopigmentation.

When you have hypopigmentation because of eczema, these lighter areas of skin don’t tan like the rest of your skin. Instead, as the surrounding skin becomes darker with sun exposure or self-tanning, hypopigmented patches often appear even more visible.

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If you live with eczema, you’re probably already aware of which ingredients to steer clear of when it comes to skin care products. But just in case, here’s a list of ingredients to avoid if you’re shopping for self-tanning products:

  • essential oils
  • fragrances
  • dyes
  • retinoids
  • lanolin
  • urea
  • propylene glycol
  • ethanol

Ideally, when shopping for a self-tanner or bronzer, it’s best to look for a product that’s formulated for sensitive skin. As you’re researching your options, look for words like “fragrance-free” and “preservative-free,” as these will be the gentlest on your skin.

Whenever possible, also look for ingredients that are beneficial for eczema, such as added moisturizers and vitamins. Some products even contain emollients, which are some of the most effective ingredients for hydrating and protecting the skin.

Tips for applying tanning agents with eczema

Once you’ve found a product that you think might work with your skin, there are a few precautions to take.

Before you apply any self-tanner or bronzer to your entire body, it’s important to perform a patch test. By doing various patch tests over the course of a few days, you can make sure that the product isn’t going to cause a skin reaction.

If the product passes the patch test, it’s probably safe to use on your skin. But there are a few more things that can help minimize skin irritation.

First, consider lathering on a good layer of moisturizer before applying full-body coverage of any self-tanning product. And when applying the product, make sure you’re only applying a very light layer to any lesions or patches, if any at all.

Finally, try to avoid applying any kind of self-tanning product during an eczema flare-up, as this can make your symptoms worse.

Millions of people use fake tanning products like self-tanners and bronzers as a safer alternative to tanning with the sun. However, for people with eczema, some of the ingredients in these products can lead to skin irritation and possibly even flare-ups.

If you’re interested in trying a new self-tanning product, it’s always a good idea to do your research first. And when in doubt, you can reach out to your doctor or a dermatologist to see if they have any recommendations for eczema-friendly products you can try.