How to Get a Massage Without Losing Your Spray Tan

Photo of a woman's face, half tanned, half untanned

There’s nothing quite reinvigorating and relaxing like getting a good massage and pampering at a spa. Massage can help ward off stress & migraines, boost your body’s immune system, facilitate muscle healing, and improve circulation. Unfortunately, not all beauty and wellness routines mix well together. Will massage oil ruin your spray tan?

Massage oils have been known to fade and ruin a spray tan, especially when used within 12 or so hours of getting the spray tan. While some massage oils may be more aggressive on your spray-on tan than others, you’d be better off avoiding most beauty products with an exfoliating effect, including most massage oils. Rubbing or scrubbing the skin with massage oil after the spray tanning should definitely be avoided.

I absolutely love my spray-on tan; it gives pale skin the coveted fresh-from-the-beach, bronze glow that looks glamorous. That’s why I would go the extra mile to keep that golden glow longer and avoid anything that would ruin the tan. Read on to find out more about the effects of massage oil on your spray tan, possible workarounds, and how to better combine your relaxation routine with your beautiful spray tanning.

Not All Massage Oils Are Created Equal

Most massage oils on the market today are a blend of essential oils and carrier oils that are typically plant-based. That means they are usually derived from nuts and seeds like olive oil, jojoba, grapeseed, cold-pressed coconut, and almond.

While a strong massage with massage oil after spray tanning might not be a good idea, you will notice a big difference in how your glow lasts when you use massage oil as a tan extender. These are usually made using unadulterated natural oils like apple extracts, jojoba oil, almond oil, argan oil, and other cold-pressed oil. It’s important to remember that the oil shouldn’t be used in a way that it exfoliates or scrubs the skin because the friction will end up ruining the tan or causing faster fading of the glow.

Massage oils that contain salicylic acids, Accutane, Retin-A (tretinoin, a form of Vitamin A), beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) shouldn’t be used at all after a spray-on tan. These compounds have been found to run spray tans.

Pre-tan Facials and Massage

Moisturizing regimens and beauty treatments are great for prolonging your spray tan. In fact, skin creams, hydrating lotions, and natural, plant-based massage oils will dramatically improve the lifespan of your spray-on tan, instead of causing discoloration or reducing the glow.

However, the action of getting a massage or facial treatment generates some friction between the masseuse’s hand and your skin. The result can be an exfoliating or peeling effect on your skin that not only causes streaking but may also mellow out the glow of your spray tan.

Deep-cleaning beauty products, acid facials, exfoliating facials, and other treatments may have similar effects on your skin. That’s why it is recommended that you get a facial or massage prior to spraying your tan. These treatments not only soften dry skin but also get rid of dead skin throughout the body. This makes it easy for the spray tan to glide more effectively onto your supple and exfoliated skin, allowing the tanning product to set better. More importantly, a well-massaged, moisturized, exfoliated skin will result in uniform coloring and an even tan finish that will last longer.

Effects of a Hot Shower, Sauna or Steam

Getting a massage is usually only a part of a wholesome spa pampering experience. You’ll probably also want to hop into a steam room or sauna. Or perhaps take a hot shower after your massage.

While the steam from the shower or sauna may feel heavenly and relaxing, it can actually open your skin pores. This will cause the spray tan to sit unevenly on the skin, leaving unsightly brown spots to spread all over your body for 7 or so days after getting the tan. That’s certainly not the type of glow we want!

If you unknowingly get a hot shower or steam session at a sauna, you can actually use massage oil to rehydrate your pores and make your skin supple before getting your spray tan on. Alternatively, you can take a cold shower to tighten and close your pores.

Essential Oils and Massage Oils Aren’t the Same Thing

As we’ve mentioned, some massage oils contain essential oils like lavender, bergamot, chamomile, jasmine, peppermint, and eucalyptus. However, some manufacturers cut shortcuts and use mostly synthetic ingredients, including petroleum, regular vegetable oils, and crude oil byproducts.

That’s partly because producing genuine essential oils can be time-consuming and expensive. Did you know that up to a hundred pounds of lavender flowers are needed to produce a pound of the essential oil? The issue with generic oils and oil byproducts is they can cause irritation and allergic reactions that can ruin your spray tan.

Propylene Glycol is Bad for Your Spray-on Tan

As I mentioned before, not all massage oils are created the same. The ones that you really really want to avoid when you have a spray tan on are massage oils that contain a high propylene glycol content.

In an often-cited study published in the journal PLoS One, scientists at Karlstad University in Sweden discovered that propylene glycol (and their cousins, glycol ethers) may cause eczema and other skin allergies. It’s possible that PGE-containing massage oil can make it hard for your spray tan to settle into the skin because of these reactions.

If your massage oil contains PGE, the spray tan may mix with propylene glycol and other chemicals, leaving your skin feeling tacky, clammy, and sticky. The reason behind this is that the massage oil reduces your skin’s ability to absorb the tanning solution. As such, the tanning solution just stays sticky for a longer period on top of your skin.

Pro Tips: How to Make Your Spray Tan Last Longer and Look Awesome

  • Avoid spa treatments for a few after getting the spray-on tan. Massage oil isn’t the only thing that can ruin your spray-on tan. Spa treatments, such as facials, waxing, pedicures, sauna, among others, can remove or fade the tan. They can even cause the tan to become streaky or patchy.
  • Avoid makeup and lotion right before the tan. In the 12 hours before going under the spray, be sure to avoid applying any lotion or makeup. Doing so will form a coating barrier on your epidermis, preventing the tanning solution from setting into the skin. This is the same effect massage oil has on the tan.
  • Add a subtle shimmer. If you want to perfect your spray tan glow, use a bronzer, highlighter, or other highlighting products to add a subtle shimmer to your face.
  • Avoiding swimming in a pool or the ocean. Extended contact with chlorine or saltwater typically makes your skin dry out, causing your amazing tan to strip away.