Product watch: The best fake tans

Rachel Marie Walsh has all you need to know to get the best fake tan right now.

There may be nothing new under the sun but there are new ways to make it look like you’ve been lying out. Rachel Marie Walsh reports on how best to fake a tan right now.

Fake tan is safe in more ways than one, as not only is faux the healthiest way to glow but the ingredients involved are well-tolerated and increasingly of real benefit to the skin.

Home Baking

The cost of self-tan products is surprisingly varied, considering how similar compositions are at every price point. 

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), derived from fermented wheat or sugar beet, brings the bronze and is very widely used and usually combined with erythrulose, a sugar-derivative that creates long-wearing colour. 

The Maillard reaction that turns food brown under heat also occurs when these tanners react with the amino acids in skin’s surface keratin.

Everyone’s skin chemistry is a little different and the fake tan you love may not suit a friend, but any user will recognise DHA’s sweet, biscuit-y scent.

This less welcome product of the reaction makes cosmetic chemists pretty creative with masking ingredients. The famously fresh scent of St. Tropez tans was recently updated to a summer-y bouquet by international fragrance house Givaudan. 

Their lightweight blend includes notes of bergamot, green apple, lavender, rose, jasmine, tuberose, musk, and wood. 

It both incorporates and neutralises the active tanning ingredient and makes the brand’s new Gradual Tan Tinted Everyday Body Lotion, €14.99, a pleasure to use.

Product watch: The best fake tans

Smoothing agents employed to evenly distribute colour often double as skin conditioners. Most tans employ soothing non-fragrant plant oils to aid uniform application across all types. 

DHA is a diva-like ingredient that’s tough to stabilise and ‘delivery’ ingredients such as dimethicone isosorbide (DMI), can be used to consistently administer both tanning ingredients and potent antioxidants. Formulas like Caudalíe Soleil Divin Gradual Self Tanning Cream, €21.12 at, which is rich in resveratrol and other reparative extracts, are nice cosmetic-skincare hybrids.

Ingredients To Avoid

‘Guernsey cow’ is not a look any self-tanner aspires too. While a beautiful bronze will always fade eventually, there are substances that can diminish it faster and in unsightly patches. 

We all know tan can be scrubbed off but products high in retinol or anti-acne disinfectants like benzyl peroxide can also lighten it, so skip skincare with these active ingredients after you bronze. Salicylic and glycolic acids are great for gently deep-cleansing inside the pore lining and fading dark spots, respectively, but they break down colour quickly and sometimes unevenly. 

Urea, a natural exfoliant found in many intensive foot creams and flaky skin-fighting body lotions, is another ingredient to avoid.

Perfume and fragrant natural extracts won’t create tan inconsistencies but if you are prone to inflammation or atopic conditions your products shouldn’t contain potential irritants. A tan is no good reason to endure discomfort or increased redness, even for a day or two. 

MooGoo ‘How Now Brown Cow?’ Gradual Tanning Cream, €18.94, supports skin’s natural moisture barrier with almond, coconut and olive oils, as well as non-irritating plant waxes and the milk protein casein, MooGoo’s signature ingredient. 

It smells lightly of pear but this extract does not bother your skin. There are also some potent antioxidants in the formula, including green tea and Vitamin E, that encourage cell repair while you tan.

Paula’s Choice Sun 365 Self-Tanning Foam, €19.39 at, lets you achieve a more noticeable colour faster without risking irritation. 

Product watch: The best fake tans

The formula is non-sticky and tinted to safeguard against an unconsciously streaky application. It is also fragrance-free and the most long-wearing foam I’ve trialled.

Adjusting Foundation

If the faux gold of your skin is light, simply bronzing your facial bone structure and clavicle with a gel or cream formula will tone nicely. 

Adjusting your favourite foundation to match a deeper shade on the body is also relatively easy.

Make-up pros often experiment with bronzing concentrates to create a perfect base and the number available for popular use is growing.

Add a little or CoverFX Custom Colour Drops, €42.10, or Face Atelier Ultra Foundation Zero Plus, €35.40, both at, to nudge your shade right on the spectrum as your fake tan deepens. These liquid pigments smooth on seamlessly with a little sponge-blending. The CoverFX drops even double as full-coverage concealer. 

Both formulas suit all skin types.

When Contouring Is ‘The Natural Look’

UV rays don’t hit each body part in a uniform fashion for equivalent amounts of time. 

natural tan is never truly even, so it is no surprise that contouring with fake tan is more art than trend. 

Amanda Darmody, the therapist behind Cork-based mobile tanning business Perfect Glow, offers shading at no additional cost to a full body, €20, or half-body spray tan, €15. This includes facial contouring. 

Product watch: The best fake tans

“A ‘flat’ tan on the face looks very unnatural but when I contour around the hairline and cheekbones it creates more realistic dimensions,” says Amanda.

Amanda works with Cocoa Brown by Marisa Carter products all over Cork city and county.

“The spray develops in two or three hours, so you can shower [off the excess product] before bed and still achieve a beautiful colour. The tan lasts a long time without any special aftercare. Each client is different but most get a week-and-a-half out of it,” adds Amanda.

Cocoa Brown is safe for all skin types, including those prone to atopic conditions. See for details.


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