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.
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.