Sunless Tanning: Baking Is Out, Faking Is In

Forget tanning. There’s a better way to get that golden glow. Fake it. Bronzers and sunless tanners are safer and faster and can achieve results that are just as beautiful as the real deal.

Sunless tanning products generally fall into two categories: cosmetic bronzers that wash off like regular makeup and sunless tanners that actually stain the skin and fade as skin cells slough off.

Dermatologists now steer their patients toward these products if they want more color on their skin. “It’s certainly much better than going out or going to a tanning salon and getting exposed to UV light,” says dermatologist Robin Ashinoff, MD, of Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Cosmetic Bronzers and Other Wash-Off Products

These products come in several forms and add a bronzed glow to the face, legs, and body. You apply them and wash them off with soap and water later in the day, just as you would with any other makeup. Bronzers can spice up your skin for a special occasion or an evening out, or you can use them daily.

Christine Egashira, a Seattle-based makeup artist who travels the country with Sephora’s elite Pro Beauty Team, wears bronzer daily. “There’s not that much sun in the Northwest,” she says. “I need that little ‘oomph,’ some type of color, some type of warmth to the skin.”

Personally and professionally, she’s seen the good and bad among various cosmetic bronzers.

Bronzing powders: These are the most forgiving, Egashira says. “You can perfectly place it and build on it, depending on where you want it, whether it’s all over the face, down the nose, cheekbones, forehead, or chin.” For the fair-skinned, Egashira recommends Fresh’s Marbella Gold face bronzer; it creates a golden glow without brown or red undertones, she says. For deeper skin tones, she likes NARS Laguna bronzing powder. “It’s great for that person who naturally has more of an olive undertone, just to add a little more luminosity and color to their face.”

Bronzing gels: Compared to powders, gels are harder to apply, so the results can vary, Egashira says. They also may lead to that dreaded orange tone. Benefit’s Talk to the Tan is a popular product, however, for those who prefer gels, she says.

Spray bronzers: Egashira appreciates the ease of these sprays. “You can do a really quick spray on the face, neck, decollete, or whatever area you’re trying to give a little more warmth to,” she says. “You can do it after your makeup is on to give it that subtle hint of color.” She says she’s “a big fan” of Dior Bronze Sun Powder Spray. “I love it because the colors show up amazingly well on all skin tones.”

Stick bronzers: Similar to deodorant sticks, these products can be stroked right onto the legs for instant color. “They’re super easy to use for someone who wants a hint of color to their legs if they’re going out one night,” Egashira says. Using a concealer with the leg bronzer will help hide scars, spider veins, and other leg imperfections. Also, leg bronzers can be set with translucent powder to keep the color from rubbing off, she adds. An Egashira favorite: Michael Kors’ Leg Shine.

While most bronzers wash out of fabrics, let the bronzer dry completely before wearing something over it to prevent any possible staining.

Sunless Tanners: Lotions, Sprays, Gels, and Mousses

All sunless tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar that is very safe to use. It interacts with proteins in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, to produce a darker skin color or fake tan. As dead skin cells slough off, the “tan” fades, usually within three to seven days after the product has been applied.

Sunless tanners come in forms such as lotions, gels, sprays, or mousse and can be found at drugstores and department store cosmetic counters and on the Internet.

“Personally, I love the lotions. They go on smoothly,” Egashira says. Gels have their advantages, too: faster drying time and a less sticky feel.

In contrast, she has found spray tanners harder to use. Often, they require an extra pair of hands, but spray tanners are popular and easy to use for the face, neck, and upper chest, she says.

Mousses don’t contain as much moisture as self-tanning lotions or gels, Egashira says, so they’re fine for oily skin but not dry complexions. But, she cautions, the resulting tan tends to fade unevenly.

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