Dealing with itchy skin after tanning

In general, tanning is something that makes one feel good.

Whether it comes from sitting out in the sun for a while enjoying a beautiful day or from taking some time in a tanning bed, it feels good to emerge from a tanning session with a sleek, golden-brown look.

But while tanning can often make you feel like a million bucks, occasionally it also produces one of the worst feelings a human body can have — tanning itch.

If you have ever had tanning itch, you know what I’m talking about — imagine being so miserable in your own skin that you want to peel it off completely, and you have an idea of how frustrating tanning itch can be.

So what causes this excruciating feeling and how can one treat it?

 Read further to find out:


The above word is the first thing that comes to mind when first encountering tanning itch, because the first impulse once you start itching is despair.

Tanning itch is not comparable to normal everyday itches, or even the annoying itches that can come from being bitten by mosquitos or other bugs.

It’s much, much worse, an annoying pain that will literally stop you from being able to do anything remotely productive.

And it’s an itch that is immune to even the temporary relief of scratching — it feels as if the itch is under the skin and unable to be reached by standard itching.

This causes despair, as the afflicted person is unable to do anything but think about the itch and unsuccessfully scratch the itch.

It’s not out the question for the tanning itch victim to go into spasms (voluntary spasms of course, the itch itself does not affect your body to the point where you can’t control your movements), scream in pain or frustration, or even grind up against a wall or a couch or a bed like an impatient cat to try to relieve the itch.

It’s hard for a tanning itch victim to concentrate on anything else, and at the time it seems like a problem that will never go away.

Tanning itch can cause the toughest of people — ones who overcome illnesses, lacerations and sprains and function with little complaint — to wave the white flag.

So how does one go from being in despair about tanning itch to being cured? Before getting into that, let’s look into what causes tanning itch.

What is tanning itch?

Simply put, tanning itch is caused by the process of regenerating skin cells to replace the skin cells that were damaged or destroyed while tanning.

Because of this, tanning itch very rarely happens right after a tanning session; it can take 24-48 hours before the first signs of tanning itch occur.

Tanning itch doesn’t happen every time one goes tanning, nor does it happen after every sunburn.

But while it can be somewhat unpredictable, the itch typically occurs when the body is not properly hydrated in the days before and the days after a tanning session.

The drier the skin is before a tanning session and the less a person hydrates after a tanning session, the more likely that tanning itch becomes a factor.

The degree of the actual tan or burn doesn’t seem to matter has much as the amount of hydration a person does prior to and after the tanning process.

The regeneration of skin cells starts under the epidermis and then forces itself to the surface, repelling the dead and damaged skin, peeling it back.

If the skin is extra dry, that regeneration causes an irritation that is extremely painful.

And because the forming of the skin cells is happening below the surface, the normal routine of scratching the itch not only is ineffective in lessening the itch, but it also causes irritation of the surface layer.

In general, it takes 24 hours for the worst of the tanning itch to pass and 48-72 hours for the itch to completely subside in lieu of the new skin.

How to lessen the pain

So now that we know that the first 24 hours are brutally painful, how do we make it less painful? Scratching is out due to what we mentioned before, so the obvious answers to dull the pain should be the go-to solutions for regular sunburn relief, aloe vera and cold water, right? WRONG.

Both of these things not only don’t make a dent in tanning itch, they tend to exacerbate it.

The best way to stop tanning itch in its tracks is counterintuitive and seems painful, but is extremely effective: Hot showers/baths.

Cold water tends to numb the outer skin temporarily but doesn’t soak in, bring the itching back with a flourish when the skin warms back up.

However, hot water tends to soak into the skin and get down to the surface of the itch and have longer-lasting positive effects.

The initial sensation of hot water to burned skin isn’t exactly pleasant, but by that point the afflicted person is just happy to feel something other than severe itching irritation.

As for aloe vera, this might be the worst thing to apply to tanning itch.

It doesn’t even have the temporary numbing effect that cold water does; if anything, applying aloe vera to a tanning itch makes it worse.

Instead, look for topical ointments such as peppermint oil or Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Gel.

Unlike aloe vera, these solutions attack the itch and work to neutralize it.

As for the application of topical ointments, be sure to rub it on the itchy area softly, as if you were petting an animal.

That way, you can carefully apply the ointment to the affected area without itching it and further making it worse.

You might have to reapply the ointment several times — and take several hot showers and baths — in the first 24 hours of tanning itch, but the frequency of that will diminish the next day along with the itch.

Tanning itch is one of the more frustrating maladies that one can encounter, but with a little less panic and a little more information, it can be overcome.

And a bit more sunblock before tanning doesn’t hurt either.


Add a comment
  • I was suffering with tanning itch all evening, and having not known that aloe Vera makes it worse I applied a fair amount onto my skin to ensure a good deal of moisture was applied! I then got into bed and this was when I realised, this was the worst thing that could have happened! The itching got so much worse that I was leaving my skin red and blotchy!

    Having read this I straight away took a hot shower, to be honest I didn’t even reach the end, just where a shower may help, and my gosh! It’s a heaven send! I was squirming in bed before due to the itching and pain it was giving me, yet now I am so much more relaxed!

    Superb advice, thank you so much!

    1. Did the hot shower solve it for you?? I’ve only tried a cold shower and it definitely did no good!! Worst, weirdest experience ever. Like a million tiny bugs crawling around under your skin and you can’t get it to go away with ANYTHING!!!!! Going to the Caribbean soon and know I need to get a base tan but this happens to me every time I go tanning and I’m afraid to go to the salon…. Not from real sun burns though! So weird….

      1. Yes. I was so skeptical of the counterintuitive idea of taking a hot shower but I was so miserable after my tan I decided to give it a go. I still doubted it even while I was standing in the hot shower. I turned it to as hot as I could and about twenty minutes in I finally felt relief. I’ve now been out of the shower for over an hour with no itching at all.

        1. I just started tanning . Never had this problem of itching . It’s a new tanning salon I guess I’ll try the hot shower. I hope I can still tan .thanks .

    2. Omg, I did the same thing last night. Thinking oh! ill apply loads and loads of aloe vera on! that will do the trick! HA worst thing i could have done. I was up ALL NIGHT tossing and turning and itching. HORRIBLE. Not knowing the aloe made it worse, i showered this morning before work and here i was itching to death still. until i got online at work and saw this post. Immediately went and got benadryl itch cream and it already feels SO MUCH better.

  • Thankyou soooo much!!
    I tried an aloe vera cream on day one and two which was OK to start with but then the itch got more intense today (day three). I went to the pharmacy for a numbing spray containing benzocaine…I could have saved some effort and just flushed $15 down the toilet. I tried a cold compress which worked great until my body warmed back up again – which when you’re this burnt, doesn’t take very long at all! But a hot compress did wonders for me. Lasting relief almost instantly. I also put a tshirt on to go to sleep. I figured it might keep some warmth in?? So far so good. Thanks again for your tips.

  • I have been to the tanning bed before but it has been three years and when I first started going I started off at 5mins but after three years I just started back and I started at 15mins so could I be itching bc I didn’t start laying in the tanning bed for a shorter amount of time? This is the first time I have ever itched like this when I first started going this never happened till I just started back someone plz help and tell me what I can or should try and do.

    1. I had the same thing happen to me and I was miserable! I tanned a year ago and always started at 6 or 8 minutes and no itch, but this time I started at 10 minutes, and that was a bad decision. I spent an entire day doing nothing but applying ointments and showering. For me an ice pack worked wonders and taking a hot shower did the opposite. The pain and itching would subside for a few minutes, and then come back more intense than before. So my advice is to keep your body moisturized and cooled.

    2. That’s the exact same thing that happened to me!! This tanning itch is miserable! I want to go back to the salon, but afraid of this miserable itch!

  • I gave up trying all the different brands years ago, useless, my legs itch insanely!!! I am a golfer (the only time I get to be in the sun) so in summer I simply put a cheap foundation on my legs. They look great. If I know it will be rainy I will just wear trousers!

  • You cannot stop it !!
    It just happens to some people … Some things work for others but may not work for you.
    Take loretaine anti histamine (if you aren’t allergic)
    Then hot showers folliwed by E45 extreme dry skin cream
    Repeat the process for as long as it takes to get some relief, then as soon as you go on the subbed again ….. Repeat until you can’t take it anymore and give up the sun beds !!
    I suffer this to get a base tan only couldn’t take it all year it’s too painful and frustrating..
    It will not stop … So you have to roll with it if you want a subbed tan 🙁

  • Tanning bed itch is the absolute worst! Not only does it drive u completely INSANE. it also woke me up and could not sleep again that night for a while. Some people say that aloe Vera doesn’t work. But for me it helped a lot. A hot shower worked too but NOTHING makes this itch go away for good. What I have learned is when it starts itching, obviously your gonna scratch it , but just ignore it and it will fade away. But of coarse it starts back up again. This itch has the weirdest, horrible itch. Not like any everyday itch- it’s under the skin, hard to reach, sharp itch!

  • I only tan when I know I’m going to be going on a cruise so I can get a base tan, otherwise I spray tan and they are amazing, but I too have had this terrible itch. I’ve had it for a while and it doesn’t get better, the thing I would suggest though is put on a small layer of hydrating lotion on your most itchy areas before you lay in the bed and then do one after until you get home to take a hot hot hot shower. Then if the shower doesn’t relieve your pain, try biofreeze gel. Also if the shower doesn’t help try a hot hot bath, sometimes my skin has to be engulfed by the hot water to be able to find relief. These things have help me, and even though I still get mild itching, it’s nothing like I had the other night, kept me up until 5 scratching.

  • Thank you so much for this. I’m only 17 years old and ive been going in tanning beds the past couple weeks and been itching ever since and I had no idea what it was. I know it was from tanning but I didnt know why. I’ve lost sleep because of it. There was one time I didn’t sleep for 3 nights because of it. I’ve had it almost a month now and its midnight here and I normally go to bed at 9 because I love sleeping but I haven’t been and I just took the hottest shower ever, I’m still just a tad itchy but I feel SO much better!!!

  • My legs and arm pits itch a lot. Tanning stops my legs from itching. Now that haven’t tanned in couple weeks legs itching like crazy. It weird

  • OMG 10 minutes ago I was in agony following a sunbed session.
    I trI’d after sun, rescue oil and evenues savlon skin numbing cream.

    Got in a red hot bath and finally I have some relief.

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