Thanks to self-tanners and bronzers, you can look like you just returned from a tropical vacation, even if your toes never touched the sand. These products help you create a natural sun-kissed glow without the harm of sun exposure. Understanding how to best use self-tanners and bronzers will allow you to avoid that unnatural orange tint -- the telltale sign that your glow is faux.


Self-tanners include a large category of products that use dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, to add color to your skin. DHA is a sugar molecule that serves as the color additive in self-tanners. DHA, which makes up about 3 to 5 percent of the product, works with your skin's amino acids to develop a faux tan.

Types of Self-Tanners

Some self-tanning lotions work gradually, adding just a hint of color to your skin with each application. These lotions can help you maintain an existing tan or gradually build one with frequent applications. DHA-infused gels can tan and hydrate at the same time. Lightweight, foam self-tanners are simple to apply and allow you to create an even tan. Self-tanner mists can be sprayed all over, and you'll notice a deeper color in a matter of hours. Finally, towelettes infused with self-tanner can be swiped across your skin to create a bronze glow.

Evaluating Self-Tanners

Self-tanners are a convenient way to enhance your skin color at home, but some disadvantages exist as well.

  • Pros: Self-tanners come in a variety of styles, making it simple for you to achieve your desired level of tan. They allow you to bronze your skin without exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Plus, some self-tanners even have sunscreen built in, which offers a layer of UV protection as you darken your skin.
  • Cons: While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved DHA as a color additive for external use, concerns arise if any of the self-tanner is ingested or gets into the eyes, a risk associated with self-tanner mists. Some research indicates that DHA has the potential to penetrate that outermost layer of skin and impact deeper layers, though the true risk of DHA, if any, remains under investigation. 


Bronzers are another way to give you a rich tan without any exposure to UV rays, but they don't leave behind a lingering glow once you've showered. Like self-tanners, these products come in several forms.

Cosmetic Bronzers

Bronzer is best known as a cosmetic product similar to blush. In powder form -- either pressed or loose -- bronzer is applied to your complexion to deepen your color. Ideally, bronzer should be about one to two shades darker than your skin tone to create a natural-looking tan. Matte bronzers create a more subtle color than shimmery bronzers.

Liquid bronzers feature a similar consistency to liquid foundation, though they should be applied only in key areas, such as on your cheek and brow bones, rather than all over the face. Lightweight, sheer and oil-free styles work to create a luminous, bronze glow without adding weight or excess shine to your complexion.

Assessing Bronzers

Bronzers are are simple addition to your daily cosmetic routine. Use a blush brush to apply powdered bronzer during your daily makeup application. Or, use your hands to work a liquid bronzer into your daily skin care routine to add a faux tan to your complexion.

Bronzers are low-committment options because you can wash them off at the day's end. Plus, if you misapply the product or aren't pleased with the results, you can simply rinse it away and try again.

Which Product Is Right for You?

Both self-tanners and bronzers give you a sun-kissed glow, minus the sun, so choosing between the two products might be confusing. Self-tanners are ideal for head-to-toe application, while bronzers help you add color to your complexion.

Consider how long you want to rock that faux glow. If you want a tan that will last for more than a day, a self-tanner will be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you require just a touch of color for a special occasion, a bronzer allows you to darken your skin for the day.