How Long Does A Tan Last (And How To Make It Last Longer)

Holidays are like Netflix binges: unless you quit your job, sooner or later they have to come to an end. But while returning home might rob you of your happiness, it needn’t rob you of your tan.

By following a few golden rules, putting to work a solid grooming regime and learning some clever tricks, it’s easy to get extra air miles out of your holiday colour. Here’s your ticket to getting the perfect glow (and keeping it).

How Long Does A Tan Last?

First, the science. A tan occurs when sun exposure causes the production of a brown pigment known as melanin in the skin’s outermost layer (known as the epidermis).

More than just for bragging that you recently hit the beach, this is the body’s way of protecting itself from damage caused by that big ball of radioactive mass in the sky, notably UVA rays (those responsible for accelerated ageing) and UVB rays (which cause sunburn).

However, because skin naturally sheds and generates millions of cells every day, the average life expectancy of a tan left to its own devices is only around 7-10 days once back under grey skies.

How To Make A Tan Last Longer

Prepare And Maintain

The key to prolonging a tan starts before you even get one. Scrubbing an already milky pallor might seem counterproductive, but exfoliating helps slough off old skin cells so that the sun can shine on new cells at the beginning of their life cycle.

“Using a daily exfoliating body wash two weeks prior to your holiday, and on every day on your trip will prepare your skin for prolonged sun exposure and ensure a deeper, more even tan,” says Kiehl’s education executive Bianca Blum.

Even after you’ve passed back through arrivals, continue exfoliating every two-to-three days to avoid a build-up of dead cells that can make skin look dull and lacklustre. And don’t worry, this won’t speed up the rate at which you return to your original hue. “A natural tan is much deeper in the skin compared to a fake tan,” adds skincare expert Andy Millward. “So unless you’re using strong acids or physical exfoliation daily, your holiday tan won’t be affected.”

Tan Safe

The temptation, particularly if you’re only away for a week, is to rush a tan by laying on a sun lounger until you look like old parchment. However, cooking yourself alive isn’t the way to a cover model tan.

“Our skin is very intelligent,” says Millward. “If it has been burnt it will start to repair the damage by creating new cells as fast as possible and shedding the damaged ones before they can turn cancerous. This is when the skin peels and you actually lose your tan faster.”

To avoid the lizard-man look, always use a broad spectrum SPF (one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) ideally between 30 and 50 depending on your skin tone. Anything below 15 is about as much use as a concrete parachute.

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Cool Off

Everything can feel a bit frigid after coming back from sunnier climes, prompting most to turn up the shower’s temperature dial to get their skin feeling warm again.

But as good as it might feel, near-scalding water is bad news for your tan. It damages the skin’s natural barrier function and strips the body of all the oils that help lock-in your new Sicilian shade. “Hot showers contribute to skin dryness, which is a tan’s worst nightmare because it can bring about peeling,” says Escentual skincare expert Emma Leslie.

The advice? Keep showers cool, and use products that focus on hydration. If they aren’t already in your grooming arsenal, stock up on body washes rich in skin-saving ingredients like aloe vera, shea butter and jojoba oil.

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Optimise Results

There are a number of tablets, oils and lotions in the dark corners of the internet that claim to not only accelerate tanning but help maintain it too. These usually work by artificially stimulating melanin production, but not all dermatologists are down with the results.

“I don’t usually recommend these products as they can lead to an increase in dark spots and hyperpigmentation due to the melanin which has been stimulated clustering together in the sun,” says Blum.

Instead, opt for a pre-holiday primer that supports the body’s ability to tan by boosting normal cell function. Omega 3, fern extract and biotin are all great ways to ensure your colour sticks around long after you’ve packed up the beach towel.

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Stay Moisturised

The most vital step in fending off the fade while away and once you’re back on home soil is to keep skin slick. And that means moisturiser. Lots of moisturiser.

“Skin needs to be moisturised daily regardless of sun exposure,” says Sally Penford, education manager at the International Dermal Institute. “But if you have been out in the sun you may find that it has become even drier and more sensitive.”

As well as slathering on the good stuff, to keep your beach body brown switch the occasional poolside pint for a glass of water. That way you don’t have to worry about scales, or the scales.

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Fake It

The safest and quickest way to get a tan without looking like Iggy Pop is to fake it, whether that’s at home with a sunless product or by visiting a professional.

The UK’s leading spray tanner James Harknett, whose past clients include Harry Styles and Oliver Cheshire, says 15 minutes in his spa at the W Hotel Leicester Square can help eke out a natural tan for an extra week.

“Wait until you notice you’re only slightly darker than your pre-holiday shade, then get a spray tan to boost the colour,” says Harknett. “Natural tans don’t always disappear evenly, but a professional will be able to identify where it has faded quickest – such as on the face – and even it out.”

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Cheat With Your Clothes

The sad reality is that tan can fade as quickly as it appeared. So as well as working for your skin tone, knowing which colours can give it extra air miles is essential.

This goes beyond the age-old trick of wearing white on your first day back at work, says David Gandy’s go-to stylist Joe Ottaway.

“Any pastel colour from blue to pale pink is going to help maximise your tan as these hues help increase the warm tones in your skin. For chaps who have dark hair and a deep olive tone to their tan, wearing black will highlight the golden tones.”

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