When summer comes around, everyone wants to achieve that bronzed look. However, laying out in the sun is bad for your skin, can cause dry skin, sunburn and even skin cancer. To combat this, many turn to sunless tanners. But what if you suffer from acne and use a topical acne medication? Can you do this? The short answer is yes, but it’s essential to know how the two interact before attempting the combination.

What’s in Sunless Tanner?

The active ingredient in sunless tanners is a substance called dihydroxyacetone. This substance is not known to cause acne in any respect. However, there are other ingredients in these sunless tanners that may lead to acne breakouts. To avoid this, stick with gel-based tanners and avoid creams at all costs. Likewise, look for words like “oil-free” and “non-comedongenic” on the packaging to avoid unwanted acne.

What’s in Most Acne Medications?

The majority of topical acne medications contain the same ingredients. For instance, the most popular ingredient is benzoyl peroxide. This is an acne killer and works by soaking up excess oil and removing dead skin cells. Other popular ingredients include salicylic acid, which is similar to benzoyl peroxide in what it accomplishes but is less harsh on the skin, sulfur and alcohol. These ingredients target acne on different skin types and are often used in combination.

Using Sunless Tanner and Topical Acne Medication

Using topical acne medication usually helps to maintain acne breakouts, but it’s understandable that you’d want to do everything in your power to avoid new blemishes. Unfortunately for some, this may mean staying away from sunless tanners. While the main ingredient in most sunless tanners will not cause acne, some of the additives, preservatives and solutions might. If you find a sunless tanner that won’t clog pores and is oil-free, you should be okay.

Side Effects

While using sunless tanner with topical acne medication likely won’t cause you too many problems, a few potential side effects are possible. For instance, new breakouts may form. You may notice your skin get oilier or much drier. Depending on your specific results with the sunless tanner, you may find you need to switch brands or try an alternate formulation. Applying sunless tanner may also result in streakiness so take care to wear gloves and to blend the tanner into your skin evenly.


Though sunless tanner does not harm your skin, it does not protect you from the sun. Many acne medications make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so a sunblock is still a must. Also be warned that since many acne medications have a bleaching effect, your sunless tanner results may fade more quickly than normal.