The appeal of a good glow is nearly universal—whether you have the ability to lay out for a bit in the sun or if you want a temporary sun-kiss when you’re nowhere near a beach. A touch of tan can give skin an instant, rested radiance, but with the allure of a faux glow can come the (reasonable) fear of a spray tan or at-home application gone wrong. Nobody wants to look like a Cheeto. Thankfully, there are a number of sophisticated self-tanning formulations on the market, from mousses and foams to oils and creams that boast streak- and blotch-free bronzing action.
How does self-tanner work?
Self-tanners exist thanks to an active ingredient called DHA (dihydroxyacetone).
“When applied, DHA comes into contact with the amino acids in the surface layer of the skin, creating a pigment or melanoidin,” explains Harold Lancer, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.
Gabriella Baki, Ph.D., a cosmetic scientist and assistant professor of pharmaceutics at The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, explains that the higher the percentage of DHA, the more pronounced the tanning action will be. “Products available in stores usually contain 3% to 5% DHA,” she says. “They are usually labeled as light, medium, and dark, which can help consumers pick the right product.”
DHA is also the ingredient that gives a lot of products an unpleasant “self-tanner smell,” but luckily for us, modern formulas have come a long way in masking it with fragrances such as coconut, aloe, and watermelon.
How long does self-tanner last?
“This skin coloration is temporary, and often only lasts only about one week, as the skin will naturally shed its dead cells,” says Dr. Lancer.
It’s also worth noting that it usually takes anywhere from between eight to 48 hours for the skin to fully develop a ‘tan’ from the DHA, so if you’re in search of a more immediate tan, look for tinted or instant options.
From beginners who just want a subtle glow to those who want to become a full-blown bronze goddess, we rounded up some of the best foam mousse self-tanners new to the Canadian market.