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When it comes to beauty trends, there isn’t much I wouldn’t be willing to try, and along with many other women of colour I know, fake tan in particular has piqued my interest. Tanning has always seemed to be a routine exclusive to those with fair complexions, with mousses and lotions promising a bronzed, sun-kissed glow. Lately, though, I've noticed fake tan slowly but surely making its way into Black women's body-care rituals.
I wouldn’t change my beautiful brown skin for anything, but I’ve come to realize that tanning can be beneficial for people with darker skin tones. Reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation (entirely normal, of course, but may bother some), evening out skin tone, and making melanin pop are just a handful of reasons why women with darker skin are investing in fake tan. TikTok has been instrumental in highlighting the countless benefits: "Tanning for darker skin" boasts over a billion videos, several of which have been created by Black women who have taken to the app to share their own tailored tanning routines.
TikToker Awasanneh's popular tanning tutorial has amassed over 73k likes and counting. In the clip, she recommends Hawaiian Tropic Tropical Tanning Oil for minimising discoloration and evening out the skin tone on her legs. The hundreds of comments show that people are impressed with the beauty hack and are ready to give it a go. "I literally bought it bc of your last vid and it's already working. I'm lookin so good rn," wrote one. Another commented: "Finally, someone talking about it! I always had a theory that slight tanning would help to even out discoloration cause it works." But tanning isn't healthy and can lead to skin cancer, it's why many are turning to fake tan.
So how can you make fake tan work for you? I asked beauty experts to find out their smartest tanning hacks for dark skin.
What are the benefits of fake tan for darker skin?
Gen Z skin-care expert Alicia Lartey is an advocate for Black women using fake tan, as her Instagram content highlights. The esthetician-in-training's fake tan journey began in school. "People would fake tan between PE lessons and as a lover of beauty treatments I thought to myself, Why don’t I give it a go?" Lartey says. "I’m someone who has stretch marks, insect bite marks, and acne scars. Strategically applying fake tan to these areas has helped me to achieve a more uniform skin tone." Lartey knows that an uneven skin tone is entirely normal, but she notes that it can make some feel self-conscious — and result in unwanted comments. Having also experienced breakouts, which can leave behind dark spots that are difficult to fade, she says, "Sometimes it invites unsolicited advice, which can be hard to deal with when you are still recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of having severe acne."
How can fake tan help disguise hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and stretch marks?
Nicola Matthews is the founder of tanning brand Sienna X, which recently launched an Ultra Dark Tanning Mousse aimed at people with darker skin tones that lends skin a lit-from-within glow. "Contrary to popular belief, self-tan can really complement darker skin tones," Matthews says, adding that fake tan can have a similar effect to makeup. "A sun-kissed tan can mimic the sheer coverage of a light foundation, lending the skin a natural-looking radiance." Of course, the best part is that it's a lot longer lasting than makeup.
Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, medical doctor and founder of SKNDOCTOR, agrees. "Fake tan can definitely help to address problems such as pigmentation and stretch marks and is even great for adding warmth to your skin when matched to the skin's natural undertone," she says. Beauty journalist Akesha Reid seconds this. She admits to being a little clumsy (who isn't?), which often leaves her with bruises. As a result, tanning has become a staple in her beauty routine. "In the summer, using tan really helps to disguise things on my legs," she says. "It really helps even out my skin tone."
Fake tan is becoming more inclusive, too, as plenty of skin-care brands tap into the market. Take Image Skincare, for instance, whose fast-acting sunless tanner BODY SPA Face And Body Bronzer was designed to be the ultimate safe tan for an all-over, even glow (without the risk of baking in the sun, which will result in sun damage and potentially skin cancer). Nowadays, fake tan isn't just aesthetic, as many products are infused with buzzy skin-care ingredients. "Fake tan formulas are becoming more advanced, boosted with nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid so they effectively double up as skin care for the body," Dr. Ukeleghe says.
What's the best way to apply fake tan on darker skin?
"The tanning process is still the same as with lighter skin," Michaella Bolder, St. Tropez ambassador and tanning and skin-finishing expert, says. "If you have a darker skin tone and want to achieve a more prominent and deeper result then I recommend going for a darker tan shade."
An important step that tanning aficionados swear by is prep; specifically, exfoliating the skin beforehand to help tan last longer. Lartey recommends a good chemical exfoliator containing acids such as glycolic or lactic acid or a physical scrub. Beauty Pie Dr Glycolic Pore-Purifying Glow Toner, First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub, and Sunday Riley Charcoal Smoothie Exfoliating Jelly Body Scrub all top her list of must-haves. "Alongside exfoliating, moisturising is also key to avoiding any patchiness," Reid adds. "I tend to go for water-based moisturisers as they allow the tan to stick better." Oilier, richer formulas may cause the tan to slip and slide, creating an uneven result.
Then comes the actual tanning. "Using a good tanning mitt and applying the product in sweeping motions is the best way to apply a traditional tanning mousse," Lartey says. "Good application from the beginning will make fake tan last." Post-application, you'll want to avoid very hot showers (which might dry out your skin), and it's a good idea to moisturise once your tan has been rinsed away to avoid dry patches, especially around elbows and knees.
What's the best fake tan for darker skin?
A handful of tanning brands are catering towards women with dark skin, but I'd love to see a lot more, as would Reid. "Light, medium and mixed-race models don’t represent 'deep' shades," she says. We need much more representation so that those with darker skin tones are free to explore everything the beauty industry has to offer. So which products are worth your money? Personally, I like Tanologist Self Tan Drops. Mix the drops with your desired body lotion for an instant and stress-free glow.
Dr. Ukeleghe’s favorite tan for darker skin is utan Cherry Almond Turbo Mousse. Use circular motions to apply the mousse onto your body using a mitt, and leave it on for at least one hour for a golden glow. For an ultra dark tan, you can let it work its magic for up to 16 hours. "Darker skin tones are great with the St. Tropez Self Tan Express Gel, which has a gorgeous long-lasting formula, and the hyaluronic acid will really add a hydrated look to your skin," Bolder says. "To stay ahead of your natural skin cell turnover, four days after application you can buff your skin and use a really rich moisturizer after showering."