spray tan addict with vitiligo

Confessions of a Recovering Spray Tan Addict with Vitiligo

A few years ago, I turned to spray tans for an extra boost of confidence – and end up addicted to the idea of “perfect” skin. At that point in time, my skin was nearly 100% naturally depigmented, leaving the majority of my skin ghostly white. Although I had used tanning lotions to cover areas of my neck and arms before, I was looking for a better way to give my skin a little color.

What followed was a two-year crusade into the spray tanning world – and a mental and emotional health crisis. While I had started wearing spray tans to gain confidence, I ended up losing it as I slowly became addicted to the idea of “perfect” skin. When I had a fresh spray tan on, I was closer to being “normal” than I ever had been in my entire life. For the first time that I could remember, I could walk down the street, and no one would stare. I didn’t have to deal with curious eyes or intrusive comments – and it felt good. So good, in fact, that I started to panic and have meltdowns if the spray tan turned out even a little bit wrong – a drip mark from extra product or uneven tanning levels on different parts of my body. I had lived with spots all over my body for two decades, and yet I was freaking out over the tiniest of “mistakes.” My confidence slowly diminished, only to be replaced by neurotic thoughts and never-ending self-criticism. Ironic, right?

Spray tans weren’t the right solution for me, but the experience did leave me with some knowledge of how they work and what you need to know if you have vitiligo and you’re looking to try one. While everyone’s experience is a little bit different, here’s what I found when using spray tans:

Do spray tans cover vitiligo spots?

Yes, and no. Since spray tans cover your entire body, it covers both your normal skin and your spots. Personally, I preferred the look of tan skin and less tan spots, as opposed to tan skin and white spots. I’m also relatively light-skinned anyway, and thought the difference between my vitiligo and pigmented skin was less noticeable with tanner.

How often do you need to get a spray tan to stay covered?

How often you would get a spray tan depends on a few factors. First, it depends on how your skin reacts to the product. My skin had a strong reaction on my feet and hands – which is normal – and less of a reaction on my legs, arms and torso. While my feet and hands would stay tan for a while, the rest of me would quickly fade. Second, it depends on how quickly it comes off for you – and what that looks like. Since I was almost 100% depigmented, there was a huge contrast between my normal skin and my spray tanned skin – which meant that it was very noticeable as the tanner started to come off. And while the product simply fades for some people, my skin would almost look blotchy as the tanner came off, even when I exfoliated first. Third, it depends on how picky you are. I always liked to have my tans fresh and glowing, so I went more often than most. I typically got a spray tan once a week, usually on Thursdays, so it would be fresh for the weekend. Then starting Sunday, I would wear pants and tops with more coverage to hide my skin as the tan was starting to fade.

Are spray tans expensive?

“Expensive” depends on your perspective but yes, I think so. I had a tanning salon membership of $60 a month, although I’ve heard that individual tans can cost around $30 a session. I probably averaged closer to $80 or higher each month once I added in the cost of primers, scents and boosters – additives to help the color stay longer and to avoid the slight smell.

How does it work?

I’ve only been to two tanning salons, but I typically used the Mystic tanner – a spray tan booth. When I arrived each time, I would pick a color and any scents or additives I wanted. Once the room was ready, I would go into the room with the booth, undress and put on the nose plugs, shower cap and goggles provided. I would also add the lotion they provide to my hands and feet – which helps the product not sink into skin as heavily on those areas (though they still always ended up darker than everything else). The spray tan itself only took a few minutes – you stand with your arms out from your body and rotate in-between sprays. Once you’re done, the booth dries you off with a fan – and then you pat your skin with a towel afterward to dry off more and avoid any drip marks. Then you get dressed and head out. I always wore lose-fitting, dark clothing as the tanner is likely to come off on your clothes at that point.

Will it wash off, and how quickly?

Yes. You’re supposed to wait a few hours – typically 4 to 6 – before you shower. I typically got spray tans at night so I could shower and exfoliate, get a spray tan, and then sleep in it overnight. I wouldn’t shower until the next evening, giving the tan optimum time to sink in. Even so, after the first shower, the color was already faded. Also – pools would wash the color almost completely, which meant that I was often stuck poolside in the summer.

Does it come off on your clothes?

While most spray tan companies claim it doesn’t, the color always came off on my clothes, sheets and towels. It was obviously worse before I took the initial shower, but even after that and especially if I was sweating, it would sink into whatever I was touching. On my “tanning” nights, I always slept in a special set of bed sheets so I wouldn’t ruin my normal set – but even the normal set got an orangey tint over time.

Would you recommend it?

Honestly? No. For me, spray tans were expensive, smelly, messy and hard to maintain, especially when starting with no pigment at all. It was not only taxing from a time and financial standpoint, but it also became too much of a security blanket. And worst of all, my confidence plummeted as I spent more time trying to be someone that I’m not. Today I’m still covering my spots with tanner, but I’ve found options that don’t consume my life and give me more time to just be me – and it’s the healthiest I’ve felt in a long time.

Have you used a spray tan to cover your spots? Share your experience in the comments below.

Photo by Erika Page.

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Erika Page

Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Her first spots appeared on her spine when she was seven years old and today vitiligo covers her entire body. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.


  1. Irene Hafke

    I developed vitiligo 6 years ago and mow I barely have any spots left. A little normal color on my upper arms and a tiny bit around my knees. I too tried the spray tans. Expensive and too time consuming. It felt horrible when it would start to come off which I thought was so noticeable. I have come to except my skin ,however, I am having such a hard time with my neck and chest always looking so red. It doesn’t matter if I have been in the sun or not. Living with this skin disorder has truly been emotional, depressing and hurt my confidence in myself. No one understands at all. I know I still have all my body parts but when living with such a strange condition, it is so depressing.

  2. van asch elsje

    I have developed Vitiligo in 2012 after having had breast cancer. . I try to use tanner at home , but cannot find the correct one yet. So all help is welcome !!!!
    I have had terrible experiences with doctors in Belgium. Just to give you one exemple : one of the dermatogolists ( the first one , I went to) told me in the face that Vitiligo is not as bad as having breast cancer …. i felt really down afterwards because the doctor ( who is very well known in our area) does not have a clue , what he is talking about..

  3. Alexis

    I’ve had vitiligo since I was twelve years old. I know some of us want to cover it up, but so many people tell me on a daily basis how beautiful it is. We look exoctic and should embrace our special beauty. Everyone wishes hey had freckles or curly hair, well we have spots. I’m interested in spray tanning to even out my skin tone with the small spots, but I have no plans of covering up my big ones.

  4. I had vitiligo for the past 8 years still, going strong. I tried many treatments to cure vitiligo but, none had helped me. I was a former professor at a university. I had faced many issues with this vitiligo. My colleagues treated me as a stranger and they avoided me for each occasion. Then I tried camouflage makeup for vitiligo that helped me a lot.

    • Erika Page

      Harhsa, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience as a professor. I hope to see a day when there’s enough awareness that that isn’t the reaction any more. Stay strong!

  5. Martha

    I’ve not tried to cover up my skin for 12 years.. and I haven’t been depressed..it is what it is…
    Lately I thought I’d like to have a tan and was wondering if a self spray Tanner would work..

  6. Ann

    I use a lotion self tanner. Its called Beauty by Earth and its made with organic Ingredients. It comes with 3 mitts, one to exfoliate skin, one for face and one for body application. It lasts 4 to 7 days and does not leave spotty marks as it fades. I bought it through Grove Collaborative out of SF, CA.

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