Dermatologists explain how one can affect the other.
Those of us who don't live in sunny climates are no strangers to self-tanner. But when it comes to using the actual product — whether it be in the form of a lotion, foam, cream, serum, or spray tan — there's one thing most of us don't think about when slathering it on: the implications of coupling it with laser treatment.
Recently, TikTok taught us that the ingredients within these various types of self-tanners may impact the overall effectiveness of laser treatments in general. So, to understand how these two affect one another, InStyle spoke to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Rita V. Linkner and Dr. Hadley King to find out more.
For starters, there is definitive research that proves that the use of self-tanner impacts the overall effectiveness of laser treatments. "[They] have shown that the absorption spectrum of skin that has been treated with sunless tanner is increased in the 400 to 700 nm wavelength range," explains Dr. Linkner. "Lasers with wavelengths in this range could be less effective overall because the color of the sunless tanner skin affects the laser's efficacy."
The active ingredient in sunless tanners is a sugar compound known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is why they don't go well with laser treatments. Dr. Linkner explains that this works by a chemical reaction with amino acids on the skin's surface, which creates a brown-black temporary stain. "The concentration of DHA usually ranges from 3% to 5%, with the lower percentages being more light and forgiving, especially if you are new to the sunless tanner game," she adds.
Before booking your next laser appointment, consult with your dermatologist or esthetician about any concerns you may have — and be transparent about if you've used self-tanner beforehand to prevent any reactions and ensure you get the best results.
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You don't necessarily have to forego the use of self-tanning products before a laser treatment — but there are certain guidelines to follow when tackling this esthetic conundrum. Dr. Linker says that if you're a frequent sunless tanner who's being treated with a KTP laser (532nm), pulsed dye laser (585 to 595nm), or a broadband IPL (400 to 1200nm), to wait about between seven and 10 days for your outer layer of skin to slough off the self-tan before undergoing a laser treatment.
If you're not sure what type of laser is being used in your treatment or what level of nanometers the wavelengths are, consult with your esthetician or cosmetic dermatologist before your visit.