The word “self-tan” usually conjures up two images: orange hands and streaky legs. And while we have come a long way from the days of tanning beds — researchers estimate that more than 400,000 skin cancer cases a year are due to the use of tanning beds — the fear of orange hands doesn’t negate the desire for sun-kissed summer skin. Which is why the self-tanning market is expected to reach $5.5 billion in 2026.
But more often than not, we forget about the face when it comes to self-tanning. So we spoke to celebrity makeup artist Meredith Baraf, — who’s worked with America Ferrera, Lea Michele, and Kim Kardashian, plus models like Doutzen Kroes — on what she uses to achieve a naturally bronzed look without resorting to potential skin-damaging practices.
While Baraf likes COOLA’s Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Serum for the face, she generally uses the same self-tanning mousses and sprays on the body and face — she applies the spray moving in circular motions before pressing it in so it comes on even.
But while most tans last about 5-7 days in the rest of the body, by day two you can already see it starting to fade in the face — we wash our faces so much that it comes off much quicker than the rest of our bodies, and then our faces are a different color even compared to the neck. To ward off that potential “washed out” look, Baraf recommends introducing a series of products with added tints and glows to help keep the look even. “I like the Tom Ford Bronzing Gel. I put a thin layer over my face to already get that tone, then I’ll go in and start my makeup,” she says. “It helps to get you back to where the rest of your tan is, obviously depending on how dark you are.”
Then, there is also a slightly underground product called Hydra Cell Bronzing Mist by CHANGE by Celeste Randall. It is a spray that functions as an anti-aging treatment combined with radiant natural color infused with hyaluronic acid and botanicals. “It’s great if you get to the end of your makeup and are like, ‘wait, I want a little more bronze.’”
But you can do more than just updating your foundation shade for summer (Baraf recommends using a foundation one or two shades darker than your normal color). No matter how many bronzer glow drops you have dropped on your skin, Baraf says a bronzing powder will give you the most pay off. “I’m obsessed right now with Butter Bronzer by Physician’s Formula,” she says. “Half because it’s pretty and half because its smell puts everyone in a good mood — every single one of my clients lights up when I open it.”
And when it comes to choosing a bronzer shade, she doesn’t believe in boxing yourself in — try different shades because you don’t know until you see it on. “When you’re talking about a contour, it should be something less warm, but when it comes to a bronzer, choose something more caramel and rich — that is going to make your skin look a little more alive,” she says.
Her other picks: Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer tint or Charlotte Tilbury’s Wonderglow, which adds a little extra glow to your foundation. For contour and bronzer, she likes Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood Contour Wand and Tom Ford’s Skin Illuminating Powder Duo.
When it comes to the entire body, Baraf is a big proponent of getting a professional spray tan, then touching it up yourself at home. And even if you opt out of the spray tan, she loves gradual tanners.
“I have Vita Liberata’s Body Blur Sunless Glow,” she says. “To me, I would put this on as a body lotion. It has a gradual tanner, so then when I rinse it off, I[‘ve] got a little something.”
Just know — it could possibly transfer to your clothing. So, if you want to steer clear of stains, Baraf recommends going for a mousse or a spray that doesn’t have a bronzer in it, just the active tanning agent: dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a chemical that interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells to produce a brown color change. “Most people add the ‘bronzer’ to help the consumer see where they put it and where they haven’t, but the products that actually make you tan, have no color.”
Another amazing product that helps you achieve a tan without the worry of transferring it to your clothes is Tan Luxe’s The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops. You can mix the serum with other items in your body care regime (lotion, moisturizer, body oil, etc.) to transform it into a gradual self-tanner with added benefits of raspberry seed oil, vitamin E, aloe Vera and Cellutone Complex, which stimulates skin firmness.
Her other picks: VersaSpa’s Self-Tan line, the Self-Tan Souffle and St. Tropez Tanning Essentials Self-Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse. “It’s like the easiest way to get yourself a tan,” she says. “If you do it at night, then you wake up in the morning and you’re tan enough. It’s kind of fool-proof.”
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