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Why Won’t My Legs Tan? (6 Causes and 4 Easy Remedies)

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
Why Won't My Legs Tan? (6 Causes and 4 Easy Remedies)

Why don’t I have an even tan? Why are my tanning results different from others? Why won’t my legs tan like my upper body?

A lot of factors come into play that hinder your golden glow result.

For example, you may not have shaved or waxed your legs before your tanning session, resulting in a less effective tan.

Read on to find out ALL the causes as to why it’s harder to tan your legs, plus additional tips on how you can get tanned legs more effectively!

Why Don’t My Legs Tan Like the Rest of My Body?

Why Don't My Legs Tan Like the Rest of My Body?

The skin on your legs is thicker and harder, meaning UV light does not easily penetrate it, making your legs produce less melanin compared to the rest of the body and, thus, resulting in less tan.

If you ask tan technicians why that’s the case, they’ll explain the detailed reasons below as to why your legs are so much harder to tan.

  • Your legs don’t produce as much melanin.
  • The skin on your legs is thicker and too dry.
  • You didn’t shave or wax your leg hair.
  • Your legs don’t have enough oxygen.
  • You’re not gentle on your skin post-tan.
  • You’re limited by traditional tanning beds.

1. Your Legs are Melanin-Shy

If you’re into sun sunbathing or tanning beds, chances are UV light takes some time to get the tan on your legs.

To understand why, you must understand how you get tanned skin through these tanning methods.

When you expose your skin to UV light, a pigment on your skin called melanin absorbs the UV rays.

Melanin acts like an army in your skin, protecting several contents in your skin from the potential damage caused by UV rays.

This fact explains much of the tanning process for people who tan their skin under the sun or tanning bed bulbs.

Melanin production is not the same among all body parts. For instance, the skin on your legs does not produce as much melanin as the rest of your body.

Furthermore, if your body produces less melanin overall, tanning is much harder, too (yes, even if you use a tanning bed).

With that, expect to get tanned legs much longer. Patience is key when you tan your legs.

How to Increase Melanin in Legs?

There are no studies that directly prove ways of increasing melanin in the body, but some studies may suggest that increasing your intake of certain nutrients and vitamins may help increase melanin levels.

If you want to try increasing the production of melanin in your legs, you can try upping your intake of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Some foods you can consider incorporating into your diet are dark leafy greens, dark berries, dark chocolate, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, peas, grains, seeds, and nuts.

While not directly proven, upping your intake of these vitamins can still improve your overall skin health and help reduce your risk of skin cancer!

2. Your Legs Might Be Thicker and Too Dry

Melanin is only one part of the story.

Your legs have thicker skin making it more difficult for UV rays to penetrate. You can tell that your legs have a love-and-hate relationship with UV radiation, can’t you?

If you have dry skin, things get more complicated. Unless you’re taking a bath several times a day, your legs have less moisture compared to your hands, at least.

In principle, dry skin acts like a plane mirror that reflects more UV rays than it absorbs. It adds to the reason why the skin on your legs tan slower than your upper body parts.

Another thing about dry skin is it makes your legs exfoliate faster. In turn, the skin of your legs tends to shed faster its dead top layer, including the tan on your legs.

Moisturizing Your Legs Is Essential

No doubt, having your legs constantly moisturized is something most people forget before and after tanning.

Getting tan legs does not only happen during your tan appointment. Your tanning result can reflect your skincare as your legs tan over time.

Ask someone who had a terrible tanning experience as they failed to moisturize their skin before and after the tanning process.

3. You Didn’t Shave or Wax Your Leg Hair

You might want to appreciate your tanned skin more by making it smooth without the roughness of your body hair. So it might be tempting to remove hair after tanning, either by waxing or shaving.

While any unplanned hair removal is completely fine after you tan, excessive shaving or waxing can damage your tan look.

When you’re waxing or shaving, you’re removing the surface layer of your skin. This layer includes various things besides your hair, from dead skin cells to your spray tan.

At the same time, some hair removal methods can exfoliate your skin which will impair the tans on your skin.

4. Your Legs Don’t Have Enough Oxygen

Sure, you don’t have total control of your skin, from its melanin to thickness. But, the following factors are something that you can work on before and after tanning.

Aeration and blood circulation can dictate the quality of your tans, whether it’s a fake tan or a natural tan. Your skin on your legs needs oxygen to tan, and your blood delivers them to your skin cells.

Once you restrict blood flow in your legs, chances are you don’t get the perfect glow on your lower legs, in particular, compared to the rest of your body.

If you’re into outdoor tanning, your short shorts and skirts are the best garments for your lower body. Your legs need to breathe as you expose them to the sun or to a fake tan.

With that, you can ditch your tight leggings and skinny jeans in the meantime. Your tight clothes and tight pants will only get in the way of the tan on your legs.

If you’re a fan of spray tan or sunless tans, avoid wearing tight pants. Just think of how these tight clothes will strip away your legs tan in the blink of an eye!

Rubbing your skin against your clothes can also make your skin drier. As you learned earlier, dry skin tends to exfoliate faster, reducing your legs’ tan in the process.

5. You’re Too Harsh on Your Tanned Skin

Even if you’re completely naked, you can still strip away some tan on your legs.

While taking a shower after you tan cannot harm your tan skin, taking a hot bath can. You might argue that hot baths can give you a rejuvenating effect.

Long hot baths allow hot water to soften the skin. In the process, you’re more likely to lose the tan that takes some time to settle on your skin.

Worse – if you’re someone who wants to enjoy their baths to the fullest with their exfoliator or body scrub. Like shaving or waxing, scrubbing your skin can remove tans as well.

All you can do is be gentle on your skin as it heals over time.

6. Traditional Tanning Beds Have Their Limitations

Even inside tanning beds, your face and torso steal the spotlight from your lower extremities. It leaves your legs away from the attention it deserves inside tanning beds.

A traditional tanning bed tends to focus more on your upper body. As a result, your upper body is warmer than your lower part leading to uneven tans.

Looking for a high-quality indoor bed can be a lot harder than you think.

Older tanning beds have more UV lamps focused on your torso. Meanwhile, modern tanning beds concentrate their UV light bulbs on your face and shoulders.

You can see that either case neglects your legs, so you need to be mindful in choosing the ideal tanning bed.

How to Tan Legs Quickly and Effectively?

Tanning your legs close to perfection goes beyond the actual application of the tans to your skin. Consider the following tanning tips before, during, and after your next tanning sessions.

How to Tan Legs Quickly and Effectively

1. Prepare for Your Tanning Session

Whether you’re a first-timer or not, you need to prepare your skin for what it’s about to go through when you start tanning.

Regardless if you’re using a self-tanner or bathing yourself under the sun, getting your skin prepared can lead to better results.

So how do you prepare yourself before you tan?

Here are some tanning tips you can do the day or night before you tan your legs.

Remove Body Hair

If you can’t enjoy your tan skin with pesky body hair in your legs, now is the best time to shave or wax them off your skin.

Better plan your hair removal session several days before your tan appointment.

Give your skin some time to recover from hair removal as your skin’s pores return to their normal state as the spray tan bronzer gets locked underneath, forming brown dots.

When done properly, expect better results with your smooth skin without open pores.

Exfoliating Is Key to Tan Perfection

We know we told you that exfoliating your skin is bad. But that’s only true after you tan.

When you do it before your session, it produces a different effect.

Exfoliating your skin removes dead cells that would otherwise block the way of UV radiation to your skin. Without these obstacles, UV radiation, either from the sun or a bed lamp, can trigger your melanin more efficiently.

Dermatologists recommend a hydrating scrub as an effective exfoliant.

If you can’t afford a hydrating moisturizer scrub, you can always rely on home solutions. Just mix a bit of olive oil and brown sugar, and voila, you now get yourself a chemical-free scrub.

2. Moisturize and Hydrate Your Legs

Before going to the local salon, always moisturize your skin, especially on your legs.

Whether you have a dry skin type or not, your legs are prone to drying out as it does not get hydrated enough compared to your face or hands.

Hydrating your skin comes with a lot of benefits beyond tan purposes.

Hydrated skin absorbs UV radiation and UV rays better than dehydrated skin does. In effect, your skin can produce more melanin resulting in a darker shade where it’s naturally low in your legs.

One more thing is that you can enjoy a long-lasting tan. You don’t need to worry about your skin sloughing off when it’s dry.

  • non-comedogenic moisturizer with deep hydration is the best body moisturizer that you can apply to your legs for visible fake tans.
  • Look for a non-clogging moisturizing lotion with hints of macadamia or almond oils for better UV absorption.

3. Apply Some Tanning Lotions

There are a couple of reasons why tanning lotions exist. They are different from regular lotions in a lot of ways, such as their ingredients.

If your legs are a bit problematic when it comes to tanning, some tanning lotions can help you solve the issue.

Another great option is a tan accelerator that can help maintain your skin’s softness and flexibility.

As the name suggests, tan accelerators can speed up the tanning process by preparing your skin to keep the tan color.

You can also try using tanning oil formulas and other tanning products.

4. Wear Loose Clothing

This step is something you can do moments before you arrive at the tanning salon. As mentioned earlier, tight clothing can strip the tan away from your skin.

So, your intuition will tell you to wear loose clothes instead. Wearing loose shorts, pants, or a skirt increases air circulation for your leg’s skin to breathe after getting tanned.

How to Tan Just Your Legs in a Tanning Bed?

You can try tanning just your legs inside a tanning bed by covering up your entire torso, but this can lead to an uneven tan.

I don’t recommend doing this, and instead, you can do the best practices below to make sure that your legs are in the best condition to get a dark tan like your other body parts.

  • Shave and exfoliate your legs before tanning.
  • Moisturize your legs before tanning.
  • Use tanning oils or tanning accelerators on your legs before tanning.

How Long Does It Take to Tan Your Legs?

On average, people spend almost 1 hour under the sun to achieve their desired tanning results and reach up to 2 hours for their legs to tan to the same color. For tanning beds, it can be as short as 1 minute to 20 minutes, depending on your skin type.

Since your legs are thicker and don’t produce as much melanin compared to other body parts, you might need to spend almost twice as much time tanning them.

Additional Tips on the Best Way to Tan Your Legs

Now, you’re on track to getting that perfect bronzed look on your legs. Here are more tanning tips you can do during and after the following tan options.

Tip #1: Switching the Position’s Up to You

If you decide to tan under indoor beds, the previously mentioned preparations can help you maximize one session.

Since you want to give special attention to your legs, change your position as much as possible. Maintain proper posture to allow UV radiation to reach all sides of your legs.

Spread out your legs; so you don’t cover some parts. Flip to your sides to enhance tans on every corner.

There are times you cannot avoid having more tans on the upper half of your body than on the lower half. If that’s the case, cover your upper half and expose only your legs in your next session.

If there’s a need for some emergency shaving, you better do it three days after your session. Ensure you use a sharp razor never used before.

Tip #2: Catch the Sun the Proper Way

Soaking yourself under the sun is not that different. You can enjoy some benefits as you get a gradual brown hint look.

In outdoor tanning, you have a massive space to work your legs under the sun. So you better not stick to one position when sunbathing.

As a precautionary measure, apply some sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Don’t worry; it won’t affect your tan that much.

Consider tanning as if you’re doing normal activities outdoors before 10 AM and after 4 PM.

Tip #3: Spray Your Way to Flawless Tans

Ask some spray tan technicians for some advice to get some glowing legs, and you get pretty much the same tips as above.

They would point out that preparing and taking care of your legs are essential to achieve your desired tans.

While you can highlight your legs with a self-tanner, avoid wearing shoes to get the best results. Self-tanners tend to settle better on bare skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Certain Parts of the Body So Hard to Tan?

Some parts of the body, like the legs, don’t produce as much melanin compared to other body parts. This is because the skin on these body parts is also thicker, making it more difficult for UV rays to penetrate through the skin.

Why Are My Legs So White and Pale?

Paleness in your legs can be related to the blood flow in that specific area rather than the amount of melanin in the skin. Very white and pale legs can be caused by Anemia (lack of red blood cells) or an underlying disease. This does not mean it’s impossible to get them to tan, though. You can still tan your pale legs as long as you follow the tips above!

Final Thoughts

Your legs might be hard to reach for any kind of tans, but you can do some tricks to spread out the tans from your head to toe.

You only need to see which step works best for you, and everything else will follow.

Feel free to share your experiences doing some of the mentioned tips with a friend.