6 Ways to Fake a Tan Without Damaging Your Skin

From bronzing drops to body foundation, you’ve got lots of options!

<p>Adene Sanchez/Getty Images</p>

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

Chasing after glowy, bronzed skin is a warm-weather rite of passage. However, getting a tan is arguably one of the worst things you can do for your health and appearance over the long term.

“People who regularly tan—whether using a tanning bed or naturally with the sun—will have faster collagen breakdown leading to the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots and sagging at younger ages,” notes Carmen Castilla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. She adds that sunburns, tans, and otherwise unprotected exposure increase your risk for developing skin cancer.

So what’s a person to do when they want that tanned look without the accompanying skin damage? Turns out you’ve got plenty of options!

Self Tanner

Forget what you think you know about the streaky, orange-y sunless tanners of the past. Today’s class of self-tanners are in a league of their own and consistently deliver a natural looking faux tan.

“Self-tanning lotions are a safe alternative to tanning beds and sun exposure, and they work by temporarily staining the outermost layer of the skin with a color additive called dihydroxyacetone (DHA),” notes Aimee Carr, an esthetician, makeup artist, and founder of Voodoo Makeup.

This results in a sun-kissed glow without damaging UV exposure. A handful of formulas exist, including sprays, gels, and lotions. When applying faux tanner, test it out on a hidden spot—like your stomach or upper legs—and wait for 24 hours. It’s also best to apply a thin layer and build darkness.

“To ensure an even application, it is recommended to exfoliate skin before using the lotion and to apply it in a circular motion,” Carr notes. “It’s also crucial to wait for the lotion to dry before dressing up and to avoid water exposure for at least six to eight hours to allow the color to develop fully.”

Castilla says the results will last about a week, and suggests applying less to areas like knees and elbows since they tend to absorb more product. 

Professional Spray Tan

While selfless tanner products have come a long way over the years, they still require precision and some twisty finagling in order to get an even-looking faux tan. If you don’t quite trust yourself yet, a professional spray tan is your next best option.

“Look for a spray tan salon that uses high-quality products and has experienced technicians who can help you achieve a natural-looking tan that suits your skin tone,” advises celebrity makeup artist Elizabeth Seropian. “It’s so simple and it makes you look like you’ve had a summer vacation all year around.”

Make sure to follow the salon's instructions for preparing your skin and letting the color develop post-spray. 

Powder Bronzer

Even a subtle application of powder makeup bronzer can instantly create that “just spend a week in Tulum” glow. Bronzers are applied strategically to certain areas of your face—including around the hairline, temples, nose, and cheeks—to infuse soft warmth and to create a slight sculpting effect.

You can also apply them to other areas of your body, like your collarbone, under your chin, and shoulders. Carr recommends using a large, fluffy brush for application and to make sure you blend well for a natural-looking finish. 

Bronzing Makeup Drops

Bronzing makeup drops are a nice alternative or supplement to powder bronzer. They work similarly to sunless tanners, but tend to create a milder glowy, tanned appearance and they allow you to slowly build up color.

Makeup artist Brittany Gharring says that you simply mix the drops into your daily face moisturizer or foundation and then apply as usual to your face, neck, and chest. Over time, you’ll develop a beautiful faux tan. The more often you apply, the deeper the tan. 

Body Foundation

Yep, foundation for the neck down is totally a thing.

“Body foundations are a great option for those who want to cover up imperfections and even to give yourself a nice tan. The color will be what you choose and won’t take time to get darker like some tanning lotions,” explains Seropian.

After exfoliating and moisturizing, buff the body foundation onto your legs, arms, chest, and/or midriff with a large, fluffy makeup brush. Alternatively, apply with your hands similar to how you’d apply a moisturizer.

“To make sure your body foundation stays in place all day, set it with a translucent powder or setting spray,” Seropian advises. “ This will also prevent it from transferring to your skin.” 

Weekly Exfoliation

Physical scrubs and chemical exfoliants aren’t going to create a tanned appearance, but they can absolutely make your skin look more glowy and radiant. Exfoliation buffs away and breaks down dead skin cells, which accumulate on the skin’s surface and can make complexions look dull.

Castilla recommends using a glycolic acid body wash once or twice a week, making sure to follow up with a moisturizer each time. Don’t neglect your face, either. A gentle at-home chemical peel or mild scrub boosts glowiness and can make your makeup and faux tanner look more natural. 

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