After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, I lost nearly all my skin’s pigment by my early twenties. After nearly two decades, I was tired of being stared at and I just wanted to feel like my old self again. That’s when I started camouflaging my skin using spray tans.
As my last patches of pigmented skin faded, spray tans gave me a way to be invisible from staring eyes and feel more like the person I wanted to be. Although spray tans offered me a lot of freedom and confidence at first, I ultimately developed an unhealthy relationship with this type of tanning and moved on to other forms of camouflage for vitiligo before going tanner-free.
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 different, here’s what I experienced 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 do spray tans work?
I’ve only been to a few 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 spray tans 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.
Do spray tans 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 covering vitiligo with spray tans?
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 time trying to look like someone else.
Have you used a spray tan to cover your spots? Share your experience in the comments below.
Erika Page is a blogger, speaker and self-love advocate with universal vitiligo. After living with vitiligo for two decades, Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.