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A guide to choosing the best sunless tanner

A guide to choosing the best sunless tanner

With summer just around the corner and outdoor socialising soon to be back on the cards, it’s time to put away the warm winter jumpers and scarves and make way for shorts, skirts, vests and all manner of other warm-weather attire – what better excuse for a whole new designer wardrobe to celebrate?

But, if after months of being shut away indoors you’re feeling less than ready to bare any skin, then you might be considering implementing a tanning regime to build up a healthy glow.

Whilst there’s no denying that a golden tan makes just about anyone appear healthier and full of vitality, exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can do a number on your skin – and repeatedly spending time outdoors without a quality SPF on can result in premature signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles – as well as sun damage. Worst case scenario, you also put yourself at risk of skin cancer if you don’t take the right precautions – but even those who do apply SPF often don’t do so consistently enough to prevent their skin from harm.

If you’ve previously enjoyed treating yourself to a good session of sunbeds to get your annual tan going – with or without SPF – you’re putting yourself at similar risk – and following repeated warnings from doctors and dermatologists about the potential risks, we’re turning increasingly towards sunless alternatives.

Woman with spa on her shoulder
SPF should be worn with or without tanning lotion, as it helps protect your skin

These days, it couldn’t be easier to achieve the desired effect without exposing your skin to a single UV ray, and with a plethora of sunless tan lotions, mousses, sprays, wipes and pads to choose from, you’re pretty much spoiled for choice.

But if the thought of self-tanning at home gives you nightmares about the streaky, orange experiences you’ve had in years gone by, then rest assured that things have come a long way since then. Today’s luxurious sunless tans are golden and glowing with health – without a smudge or a smear in sight. And gone are the days of stained hands and feet, too – so if you haven’t given them a try in some while, then now is a perfect time.

Navigating the different types of sunless tanners can feel like a minefield, and knowing which kind to choose can present quite the conundrum. So, we’ve asked the experts at Happy Tans to demystify how to tell your formulas apart and find the perfect self tanner for you.

Choosing your formula

Self tanning moisturisers

Self-tanning lotions allow you to build up the colour intensity over several applications

If you’re a fan of a subtle and buildable approach and have plenty of time to achieve your desired look then self-tanning moisturisers are an excellent choice. With a lower concentration of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient in sunless tanners, they allow you to build up your perfect colour intensity over several applications, leaving you with a healthy glow. A great choice for achieving just a hint of colour, you can use daily to maintain your tan throughout the summer – and all without any fear of streaks or smudges.

Tanning wipes

Quick and easy to use, tanning wipes – or towelettes – have been pre-soaked with self tanner for you – so all you have to do is unwipe, and swipe! A quick and convenient way to top up your tan, they come in varying intensity options – but it’s worth noting that these are not the most environmentally friendly option as wipes are often non-biodegradable and contain microplastics.

Self-tanning lotions and creams

mitten for self-tanning and applying cream for tanning
Tanning creams and lotions are available in a range of different shades and intensities

The original form of sunless tanner has undergone quite the transformation since the early years, and today’s formulas are often tinted so that you can see if you have missed a spot and touch it up before the product has absorbed. Available in a range of different shades and intensities, these are also often buildable in layers, so you can apply a second coat if you’re not entirely satisfied with the first.

Self-tanning mousses and gels

A preferred choice for many former lotion users due to their lightweight texture and consistency and fast drying time, mousses and gels have been increasing in popularity over recent years – but be aware that because they take so little time to sink in, you have to act fast. Once again, coverage is buildable and you can apply as many layers as you like to achieve the desired effect.

Application tips

Take your time

Woman looking at camera
Take your time and pay attention to detail as you want to achieve perfect results

When it comes to actually apply your self-tanner, make sure you have allocated plenty of time to the process to ensure you can achieve the best possible result. Trying to do the job in a rush is bound to result in mistakes, so give it the time, care and attention to detail that’s needed rather than doing it last thing before you head out to that latest red carpet event.

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Wax or shave the day before

Wax or shave the area the day before you plan to tan so that you have a smooth surface to work with. Doing it on the same day without allowing skin the time it needs to calm down afterwards can impact the results, and shaving or waxing afterwards can remove the product – undoing all your hard work and resulting in those much-feared smudges and streaks.

Never underestimate the importance of exfoliation

Woman washing face with foaming soap
Exfoliating beforehand will help you achieve a smooth canvas for perfect application

Exfoliation is a crucial step when it comes to achieving a smooth and uniform sunless tan. Giving your skin a good scrub will slough away dead skin cells to give you a blank canvas and a smooth surface to work with, ensuring that your product goes on more seamlessly. Fail to address any dry patches prior to your self-tanning session, and you can be certain your tan will turn out patchy, too. Pay special attention to rough areas such as the knees, elbows and ankles.

Choose the right tanner for your skin tone

Whilst that enviable deep glow you’ve seen on others might be your ultimate goal, it pays to be realistic – so be sure to take into consideration your natural skin tone before making your purchase. If you have pale skin, then the chances are that the darkest shades aren’t going to do you any favours – and vice versa. 

Apply with caution

When applying your tanner, start at the bottom and work your way up. Use a tanning mitt to work your product into your feet and ankles and go from there, taking care to blend seamlessly. When it comes to your face, apply as you would your foundation – dot a small amount on your cheeks, forehead and chin and blend outwards using your fingertips. Be sure to allow your tan to dry before getting dressed to prevent any smears or streaks.

And finally, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly when you’ve finished, to avoid orange palms. Moisturise regularly to prolong the life of your tan, and get set to enjoy a long, hot and thoroughly luxurious summer.

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