Self-Tanners Give You a Vacation-Like Glow Any Time of the Year


Pro Tip: Make sure you apply every bit of excess product on the mitt on your face so you don’t overdo the color.

Type: Mousse and water | Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, jojoba seed oil | Shades: 1| Development Time: 1 hour (mist); 8 hours (mousse) | Mitt Required: Yes | Fragrance: Fragrance-free | Lasts Up To: 7+ days

Frequently Asked Questions

How does self-tanner work?

King previously explained to Allure that the active ingredient in most self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which interacts with the top layer of the skin to create a bronzed color. “It’s a very typical chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction,” she stated. During the Maillard reaction, the skin’s proteins respond to the sugars in the DHA to form a darkened look—similar to the science behind caramelizing sugar in a pan.

What should you look for in the best self-tanners?

One of the most popular ingredients featured in fake tan products is dihydroxyacetone, a sugar-based compound most commonly known as DHA. As cosmetic chemist Ginger King explains, DHA reacts with the amino acids on the top layer of the skin to provide a gradual tan. The problem? It can be challenging to stabilize, hence the dreaded tangerine tint, cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller previously told Allure. Luckily, self-tanners have come a long way, and many of today’s options impart natural-looking tans that are almost indistinguishable from the real deal—and a much healthier habit in the short and long term. Common ingredients found in mousse, lotions, and spray tans are erythrulose, another sugar that stabilizes DHA, moisturizing emollients for a smooth and streak-free glide, and different forms of encapsulation technology to enhance the product’s finish and neutralize DHA’s usually-pungent smell.

How long does self-tanner last?

Here’s the thing: every self-tanner’s longevity depends on its formula and pigment intensity. A subtle, faux glow can wash down the drain in a matter of days, while a dramatic bronze may last for up to two weeks. Self-tanning expert and St. Tropez brand ambassador Sophie Evans previously told Allure that faux tan products typically last between five to 10 days. “Your skin will naturally shed over five to 10 days, and no self-tan will last longer than ten days,” she said.

Beauty treatments like waxing and manicures can impact your self-tan, so make sure you take care of those before your self-tan session. “All of those treatments can remove self-tanner,” spray tanner Anna Stankiewicz of Louise O’Connor Salon in New York City previously told Allure. Other things to note while using a self-tanner are to wash with a gentle cleanser, make sure your skin is always moisturized, and avoid intense actives like retinol and acne treatments, which can dissolve the color on your face or body.

How to achieve a streak-free tan with self-tanners

One of the golden rules of self-tanning starts with your skin-care routine, a.k.a. exfoliate beforehand. Stankiewicz suggests sloughing dead skin with an oil-free cleanser laced with glycolic or salicylic acid. Just be sure to remove any residue before proceeding, so you can start with a clean, dry, and product-free slate that’ll maximize your self-tanning results. This is a crucial step because oils “could interfere with the binding of DHA to the stratum corneum,” according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD, and lead to uneven development. While your skin should be mostly dry, spot-moisturize as needed for areas like around nostrils, knees, elbows, and ankles to keep them from turning dark or orange, Stankiewicz previously recommended.


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