………….  Yes it may.

Ideally for the best tan development, evenness, and smooth wear and fade – you need the Tanning product to penetrate the skin well, and evenly.

This is why ALL products used before applying your tanning product can matter. (cleansers, exfoliates, shampoos, conditioners, shave products, moisturizers)


Any product that leaves a film or coating layer of any type, on the skin has the potential to create a layer of “stuff” that your solution may not penetrate through evenly.

Tanning prep sprays such as CYA PreTan Prep spray can help remove film and coating on the skin, but they are not always able to completely remove all residue.

Though many shower products can inhibit tan formation, we are limiting this article to the cleansers used.  I will address exfoliates, shave products etc in future articles.

The two types we normally come across, are bar soaps (not recommended) and liquid or gel soaps (Recommended but with limitation). If you would like a detailed explanation of each please see all headings below. Or scroll directly to the synopsis at page bottom, for a short recap that has the basic meat of “why”.


Bar Soaps:

Cleansing bars of all types, are formulated to maintain a solid bar form when hanging out in a damp shower. To maintain this bar shape, ingredients are used that do not break down easily in a humid damp shower. Ingredients such as water resistive oils, waxes, tallow (animal fats) are a few examples. These ingredients, in themselves, are not harmful to the skin; but when a bar soap is used to cleanse, these ingredients do not rinse cleanly from the skin.

They can leave a film or coating on the skin.

It does not matter the bar “type” – the fact that it is a “bar” form, lets you know it has ingredients added that are water resistive.

If this film is not scrubbed off the skin, with a rough washcloth or exfoliation cloth or mitt, it can leave a film that can alter how your spray tan works.

Skin Dryness and  skin health:

Cleansing agents in bar soaps tend to be harsher and stronger, and more drying to the skin. These cleansing agents remove the essential moisturizing and nourishing substances that uphold your skin’s surface layer integrity.


Though its is not directly related to your spray tan development (See article Does skin pH create orange tans?) the higher pH of soap based bar soaps is very harsh on the skin. Occasional use is not usually a problem, unless your skin is already very dry. But continual use can cause long term damage to the skins protective surface layer (acid mantle barrier), which helps the skin to hold and maintain moisture in all tissue layers, and protect itself from bacterium.

With time, as this layer becomes damaged, it cannot repair itself. The skin begins to loose moisture to quickly. This can create dryer skin, with a crackled appear, and a spray tan that fades faster and more unevenly. Eventually the skin can become irritated, and peely.  many skin health diseases and concerns can be linked to incorrect function of the skin protective barrier.


Cleansing Bar Types:

Common Bar Soaps:

Traditionally made with plant and or animal fats, and cleansing ingredients such as Lye. Additional plant oils, extracts, colorants and fragrances are added to improve skin feel, and product appearance. These tend to be very hard to rinse away from the skin cleanly.

Soap Based cleansers are a very high pH, but cleanse the skin very well. They are drying to the skin with regular use, and can disrupt the skins ability to hold and maintain moisture and maintain a healthy protective protein acid mantle layer.  (which means skin drys out faster and can become damaged)

Normally sold as “Traditional”, “All-Natural” “Organic” “Vegetable based bars”.

“Super Fatted” versions are made in the same manner, with the same drawbacks. But they are more moisturizing  then traditional soap bars, and less drying to the skin. pH and rinse-ability is still of concern.

Transparent Soaps;

Bar soaps that are transparent, are the same as regular soap bars, with added glycerin that does make them a bit more moisturizing, but can still dry and irritate and coat skin. Milder than common or traditional soap bars, but can be irritating, hard to rinse cleanly, and still disrupt skin pH.

Syndet Bars:

The majority of cleansing bars in the market are of the syndet type. Dove® is the oldest and most well know. They tend to product a lot of foam, with a neutral pH. Syndet bars use milder synthetic detergents. (thus the name syndet)

These are often advertised as “Soap Free” bars. Though generally being very mild to the skin, and having a lower pH, (around 7) they also tend to cause tanning solution absorption issues, uneven or no color, or peeling or faster tan fade. Thus the reason Dove® brand has a verboten reputation for use while spray tanning. But any Syndet bar can produce the same issues. Dove® is just the most popular used.

Combination Bars:

Combining factors of traditional soap cleansing bars, and Synthetic detergent bars. They are not as mild as a traditional Syndet bar, but also less irritating and drying compared to a traditional soap bar. Other issue related to film formers still apply.


Overall I would recommend a liquid gel cleanser to all your clients, but even within the liquid gel type,  correct form matters, please see below.

Liquid Gel Cleansers Types:

Common Liquid Gel Cleansers:

These are a mild moisturizing body wash liquid, and may even say “Moisturizing” on the label. This term is not a problem, because of below.

Milder to the skin, with a skin friendly neutral pH, Overall a better choice for normal skin, and for use when preparing for or maintaining a spray tan. They ARE mildly moisturizing, but because of the moisturizer/humectant type (glycerin), most rinses away easily in the shower.

They would not normally leave a coating on the skin. The specific brand is not so important, as is the “type”. Look for a product that is clear/transparent/translucent in the hand or container. (You can see light shine through, color does not matter).

Emollient-Rich Gel Cleansers:

Richer then normal gel soaps cleansers. These are opaque and milky looking in form. They have a higher concentration of plant oils that do not  rinse away easily in the shower rinse water. The cleansing agents are very mild, to allow the oil moisturizer ingredients to stick to the skin. This can leave a film that prevents tan penetration, or can even cause faster or uneven tan fading.

Dove® and Olay® are two well-known products of the Emollient-Rich gel cleansers type. They appear milky creamy and opaque in the bottle or hand. As such they can leave a film on the skin that can be hard to remove.

Some (few) clients can use these and never have any problem, and there are some other brands  (not Dove or Olay) of a similar type that cause less, or no, issues. But its hard to know “which” is okay, and which is not,  without reviewing the entire ingredients listing and using the product on a number of people, as test Guinea pigs.

So for ease of client coaching, I would generally say – “stay away from Opaque or milky cleansers, while spray tanning”



Low-Foaming Gel Cleansers:

These are normally a facial care product, but body care version are available. A common example is Cetaphil®. They typically use mild detergents at low percentages, and a neutral pH, and are considered a non- moisturizing mild cleanser.  No extra moisturizer ingredients are added. They are a milky type cleanser, but because of the lack of added moisturizers and humectants (which ARE in the Emollient type cleansers) They should not normally alter spray tanning results for most clients.  Many clients can use them without issue, but if you have a client with issues, ask then to switch to a translucent gel for a few weeks and see if that effects their tanning results.


Best recommendation for your clients:

When recommending a cleansing product for your client, specific brand is not the most important factor, as many brands available from local drugstores, to specialty lines, can all work well to cleanse the skin, and help prepare it for Sunless tan application.

Gel Liquid Soaps that are translucent/transparent variety’s will be the best option, avoiding those that are milky or creamy, opaque and rich looking.

Bar Soaps are harsh on the skin and contain ingredients that do not rinse cleanly, and may leave a film on the skin This can alter how the tan attaches, develops and fades.

Make sure clients are rinseing all products from skin. It is common for Soap, Hair Conditioner etc to “stick” to lower body and legs (sopas) and Hair condirioners often stick around neck, shoulders, upper back and chest. So if tan does not develop evenly in these ares, discuss rinsing with your client.

Doing the final rinse with a net shower ball, sponge or exfoliate glove, or soap free washcloth or mitt can help remove residue better.  Rather then just letting water wash over skin, with no mechanical cloth aide.

Not everyone will respond equally to every cleanser, so for some clients this may not create an issue. Some client can use anything and have great results every single time.  :)

But if an issue is occurring, review the clients skin prep plan to better assist them toward a resolution.

No matter which cleanser type they use, proper exfoliation, pretan with a product that rinses cleanly without leaving a film behind will also be very important to proper tan outcome.


Peace, Vicki




References for this information:
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2016, pages 1,047-1,051
Current Problems in Dermatology, February 2016, pages 1-7
Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing, January-February 2008, pages 84-90
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, October 2007, pages 220-229
Dermatologic Therapy, Volume 17, 2004, Supplement, pages 44-48
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, October 2001, pages 830-836:
Abbas, Syed, Goldberg, Jessica, and Massaro, Michael. “Personal cleanser technology and clinical performance.” Dermatologic Therapy. 2004: 17:35-42.
Ananthapadmanabhan, K., et al. “Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing.” Dermatologic Therapy. 2004: 17:16-25.