Like many others who grew up in southern California, I spent many summers worshiping the sun. Whether we were spending long days at the beach, a friend’s pool or our own backyards, it was always of prime importance to catch those rays. My friends and I would lay out for hours, and the race was on to see who could get the deepest, darkest tan (and who could get it first). Since I was naturally fair (I was probably the palest of all my friends), I usually lost the contest, not because I couldn’t develop a tan (I always eventually did), but because I would usually burn first. But I was determined, and every time that burn turned from red to brown, it felt like a much-deserved victory. If baking under the sweltering, relentless sun was the challenge, then a dark, magnificent tan was the reward.
Flash forward many years later, and I’m now facing the repercussions of all that sunbathing. I can’t say I have complete regret: I loved those fun-filled days, and it’s hard to look back at such nostalgic memories with any regret. Still, I wish we’d known a little more about sun protection back then. Heck, I thought I was being safe when I slathered on a little SPF 4 (yes, that’s 4, not 45, in case you wondered if it was a typo…and what exactly is the point of SPF 4 anyway?! But I digress…). Today, I still enjoy time at the beach, but now it includes the use of mineral sunscreen, a good hat, and sometimes even the shade of an umbrella.
You might be asking, “So what’s the point, then?” Well, I’ve had to redefine what lounging in the sun now means (i.e. it’s no longer a tanning contest); now it means I’m there to get responsible sun exposure (enough to get my vitamin D), maybe catch up on some reading, and well, simply enjoy it.
All of that being said, like most people, I still like to have some color. Enter: sunless self tanners. I started using self tanners years ago and since then, I’ve tried just about every brand in existence. Self tanners have come a long way since those early orangey-streaky-stinky versions many of us tried back in the day. Today, there are plenty of effective options. I had developed some favorites over time, but realized that slathering on a bunch of chemicals all over my skin wasn’t that much healthier than the UV rays I was trying to avoid in the first place.
What to Look for in a Natural Self Tanner
With all of this in mind, the hunt was on to find a good self tanner that was free of chemicals and undesirable ingredients. Luckily, there are some great natural, partially organic self tanners available today, and yes, they actually work! Of course, when using self tanners, remember that you’ll want to:
- choose a self tanner that contains healthy ingredients instead of harmful chemicals
- choose a self tanner that works with your natural complexion
- always properly exfoliate (particularly before your first application) and wash your hands thoroughly after each application
- be aware that most self tanners do not provide SPF sun protection
The Best Natural Self Tanners
Here are some of my favorites; they are all paraben-free, contain mostly natural ingredients (and some organic ones) and are free of most of the chemicals that come in conventional self tanners:
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1. Caribbean Solutions Beach Colours Self Tanner (best for fair complexions):
Caribbean Solutions Beach Colours Self Tanner is probably my favorite self tanner at the moment. It’s easy to apply, provides a lot of moisture (but is not sticky or greasy) and provides a subtle, natural looking color. I see the best results after the second application (because it’s so subtle, you need to build up the color). But because my tan develops gradually, I never have to worry about streaking or uneven spots (even when I get lazy with my exfoliation prep). I find that this product works best for those with fair complexions (like me), those who prefer a lighter look versus a darker one or those who don’t want to worry about possible streaking (it’s far more fool-proof that other tanners I’ve used). This self tanner comes in a tub, which means I usually just tip it over and pour it into my hands (instead of scooping it out with my fingers…the less you get on your fingernails, the better). I prefer it to a bottle because I can use up every last drop (as opposed to bottles where you know there is always wasted lotion left at the bottom that you just can’t get to). It goes on as a white lotion initially, but this is a good thing because it forces me to blend it in really well (don’t worry: the white absorbs and becomes invisible after a couple minutes). Lastly, this product is priced well and provides the best value as compared to other self tanners I use.
Bottom line: easy to apply, provides a subtle color best for fair complexions, no streaking, good value.
2. True Natural Tropical Self Tan, Dark (best for medium to dark complexions, although they offer lighter versions too):
True Natural Tropical Self Tan also has a lotion consistency, making it easy to apply. It was also very moisturizing but not too greasy. I tried the Vanilla Coconut scent (they have other scents available) which was pleasant. Plus this product is gluten-free and vegan! I found this self tanner to be rather potent, probably because I chose to try the dark shade (I would have been better off with the light to medium shade, but I wanted to see just how “dark” it really was). After two applications, it provided a lot of color, and I think it’s a good choice for those looking for a deeper tan (just be sure to blend it in really well because the darker the result, the more chance of streaking or uneven spots). Next time, I will try the Light to Medium version, which I imagine will be a better match for me. But I think others who are looking for a darker look will like this version. True Natural also offers other options, such as this self tanner/moisturizer for the face (note: I haven’t tried this one myself).
Bottom line: easy to apply, provides a dark tan best for medium to dark complexions, the brand offers more product options.
3. TanOrganic Certified Organic Self-Tan (best for medium to dark complexions):
TanOrganic Certified Organic Self-Tan is an oil, so it took me a minute to get use to it. It comes out in small drops, but the drops are potent, so be sure to blend them in well (and I would recommend using disposable gloves or an application mitt when applying this one). The oil was a bit messy (as opposed to a lotion) and made it slightly more difficult to apply (plus it was a bit sticky while drying). But if you’re looking for potency, this self tanner does the trick, as it provides a dark tan in just one application. TanOrganic is advertised as “the world’s first eco certified self tanning brand,” and it is the only one I found to provide certified organic ingredients (note: the product is manufactured in Ireland). The orange scent is very faint (which is a plus), and I find it to be a unique product with exceptional ingredients. Besides Amazon, you can also purchase directly through their website (as of the date this post, the price on their website appears to be a better deal, even including shipping).
Bottom line: provides a fast-developing dark tan best for medium to dark complexions, is an eco certified product filled with luxurious ingredients, slightly more difficult to apply but worth it for those wanting lots of color.
What are your favorite natural self tanners?