The Best Self Tanners For Bronzing Your Body

A bronzy, sun-kissed glow easily makes anyone’s skin look more radiant and youthful. The problem? The short-term tan that results from a day out in the sun has long-term consequences, such as a higher risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

“A natural tan is a sign of DNA damage,” explains Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Westport, Connecticut.

That’s where self-tanners come in. These products can give you that coveted golden glow without basking in the sun’s harmful UV rays. “Traditionally, self-tanners use DHA or dihydroxyacetone, which is a chemical derived from beet or cane sugar,” says Dr. Robinson. “It reacts with the amino acids in the outer dead layer of our skin, resulting in a darkening of skin tone. Alternatively, there are organic, sugar-based products, which use naturally derived sugars from fruits and vegetables to achieve that sunless glow.”

But self-tanners can be a bit intimidating. How do you choose one that actually looks natural? We asked Sophie Evans, a skin finishing expert at St. Tropez, to break down everything you need to know about self-tanner.

How to choose (and apply) the best self-tanner for your face and body

Mind your skin type: Opt for oils, lotions, or gels if you have dry skin, says Evans. Mousses work great for most skin types and are easy to apply, but don’t last quite as long (most results should last at least five days). As for sprays? They’re handy for those hard-to-reach areas.

Prep your skin: Exfoliation—say, with a body scrub—is key to a natural, flawless-looking tan, says Evans. If you have the time, start exfoliating a few days before you apply the product, she says. Make sure all waxing is completed 24 hours before applying your self-tanner, as this will ensure the hair follicles have settled to help create a perfect finish. To prolong and maintain your tan, moisturize daily, exfoliate regularly, and re-apply with a gradual tanner as required.

Be gentle with your face: Your face has a tendency to develop a darker due to its higher pH level, so be sure to use a self-tanner specifically designed for the face or use your favorite moisturizer beforehand to dilute the product. “If you have very fair, bleached, or grey hair I would highly recommend applying a light layer of moisturizer around the hair line to ensure a natural finish,” Evans says. Always be sure to remove your makeup first, too!

Invest in a mitt: “I usually tan my legs first and finish with my face,” says Evans. “I always work up the body.” Make sure you apply the tan all over your body so it looks more uniform. Using a self-tanner applicator mitt will also prevent your hands from any awkward staining.

Prevent streaks: Not using enough product can cause a streaky tan, says Evans. You should use enough product so that the tan can easily glide over your skin. If you feel any rubbing or pulling, you’re more than likely causing a streak.

Not sure where to start? We did the work for you and rounded up the best self-tanners to check out this summer. From oils to lotions to face pads to bronzer, you’ll be glowing in no time!

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