Are you already using self-tanners? Is SPF a daily friend of yours? On one hand, everyday sun exposure damages your skin: from wrinkles, and pigmentation to skin diseases. On the other hand, don’t we all love a nice summer tan throughout the year? Natural self-tanning products combine active ingredients, that do not harm your body while moisturizing your skin.

Bronzed skin makes you look healthier and gives you the after-holiday feeling. Tanned skin is the perfect accessory to your favourite summer dress, date nights on your holiday or while lounging in your beachwear. With self-tanning, you don’t need to expose your skin to the sun and you even don’t need to worry about tan lines.

For a time now natural self-tanning products with organic and safe ingredients found their way into the market. They do not harm either your body nor the environment.
While some conventional self-tanners can be harmful to your skin due to the many additives and fillers, natural self-tanners are the best choice for a healthy, natural-looking and long-lasting tan.

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This is the English version of the German blog article about „Naturkosmetik Selbstbräuner“. Click here to read the german version, which is a little more in detail as well as includes different product links.

Product recommendation // The best natural self-tan products 2020

Even though a few years ago self-tan and fake-tan products still were associated with nasty chemicals, orange coloured skin and a not natural looking tan, we can now see a larger range of all-natural and organic self-tanning products.

A good natural self-tanning product convinces with all-natural active ingredients, such as sugar derivated DHA or Erythrulose, and moisturizing ingredients such as natural oils or aloe vera.

These are the best five natural self-tanners:

The five best natural self-tanners include products from the German natural cosmetics brand Annemarie Börlind, as well as products from three Australian brands, namely Eco by Sonya, Luna Bronze and Vita Liberata.

SPF and proper sun protection have been in everyone’s mind in countries like Australia for a long time now. Although protecting the skin for sun exposure, some of us still want to look tanned in summer. Self-tan products now also started to be a thing in Europe. FINALLY!

Now we learned to protect our skin to prevent wrinkles and pigmentation. Find below my personal recommendations for natural self-tanning products. I am sure, they’ll be more to come in the next years. How exciting!

  1. Annemarie Börlind SUNLESS Bronze Self Tanner
    The German natural cosmetics brand Annemarie Börlind has launched a great skincare product on the market with this self-tanner. The tanning cream has a light, yet rich texture, which tans the skin slightly even when applied. It protects the skin with natural oils such as peanut and sesame oils. Free from parabens, silicones and mineral oil derivatives. CSE certified.
    Perfect for self-tan beginners. Light tan.
  2. Luna Bronze Eclipse Tanning Mousse
    EcoCert® certified DHA and high-quality ingredients such as nourishing aloe vera and caramel, which give the skin a beautiful caramel bronze already when applied.
    Perfect for summer skin or pre-tanned skin. Medium to dark tan.
  3. Luna Bronze Self Tanning Lotion
    This natural self-tanning lotion has a creamy texture which is quickly absorbed into the skin, yet helps prevent dry skin. Smells of Australian lemon myrtle, orange blossom and tangerine.
    Perfect for everyone, who loves sunkissed skin. Medium tan.
  4. Eco by Sonya Organic Winter Skin
    This light tanning cream is a very good option for beginners. The product is absorbed well into the skin, tan develops gradually.
    Light to medium tan.
    Perfect for doing something against winter pallor.
  5. Eco by Sonya Face Tan Water
    This self-tan face water from Eco by Sonca is particularly suitable for skin that is prone to break out. Only natural ingredients moisturize the skin without clogging the pores. OFC certified. Integrate into your skincare routine as a toner 2-3 times per week for a natural, sunkissed glow. Non-comedogenic.
  6. Vita Liberata Foaming Tan Water
    This self-tan water from Vita Liberata is available in two colours. It is also a good product for everyone who is sceptical about colour stains on clothes. This self-tanner is transparent.
    Available in fair-medium and medium-dark.

How do self-tanning products work?

Self-tanners allow the skin to be bronzed without exposing it to the sun and UVA and UVB sun rays. A tanning product can be applied to the body, face or only the desired area as for example legs.

The active ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone), which is found in most self-tanners, penetrates the uppermost layer of the skin and forms a dye through chemical reactions, which tans the skin. The result is usually completely visible on the skin after a few hours.

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In the following, we will go into more detail about the ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone) and its effect. Then you can read about alternative active ingredients in self-tanning products. Safe DHA from natural sources can be found in most of the natural self-tanners.

The active ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone) in self-tanning products

If you’re sceptical about using self-tanners and why they may not be healthy to use, you have to dig in a little deeper into the chemical processes of its ingredients.

The ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is a sugar molecule extracted from glycerine. It is the ingredient that is responsible for your skin to get tanned. DHA can be obtained from both chemical or natural substances.

When applied to the skin, DHA triggers a reaction in the epidermis with the proteins of this upper skin layer. Melanin-like colourants are formed. The skin gets bronzed.

The ingredient DHA in self-tanning products:

The active ingredient DHA has been under criticism for years. DHA can decompose when exposed to heat. This results in the formation of formaldehyde which is often referred to as be hazardous to health.

However, formaldehyde is basically a substance that occurs in nature and therefore is harmful (only) when found in a high concentration. Therefore, (only) products with an extremely high concentration of DHA may result in a lot of formaldehyde.

Besides the ingredient, which makes your skin get bronzed, conventional self-tanning products can damage your health through harmful chemicals such as parabens, mineral oils, etc. More details on this later.

Natural DHA in self-tanning products

Natural DHA (dihydroxyacetone) can be extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane. Self-tanners from natural cosmetic brands such as the German brand Annemarie Börlind or the Australian brand Eco by Sonya (Eco Tan) contain only natural and healthy ingredients.

The natural self-tanners are free of nasty chemicals. The use of this natural derivated ingredient, DHA from sugar or soy, makes self-tanning safe. DHA naturally derivated from sugar is more stable and therefore does not develop that much to any formaldehyde.

Natural cosmetics self-tanning products have already been criticized several times for being harmful to health. Natural products have also been heavily criticised, especially by the test report on self-tanners published in the consumer magazine ÖKO-Test in 2016.

The German natural cosmetics manufacturer Annemarie Börlind refers in a Statement on the evaluation of the „Annemarie Börlind Sunless Bronze Self-Tanning Agent“ by ÖKO-TEST to a „value of 2.1 mg of formaldehyde per kilogram of product that is harmless to health“.  Even some vegetables such as tomatoes or cauliflower have significantly higher formaldehyde contents.

Furthermore, Börlind GmbH criticizes in this statement that a splitting off of formaldehyde from the active substance DHA is unavoidable and DHA is an indispensable ingredient for the tanning of the skin. The self-tanning product of Annemarie Börlind is therefore not to be criticised on the basis of these facts.

In order to ensure the product’s quality and to slow down the decompose of DHA, natural substances are added to the tanning creams instead of harmful chemical ingredients.

A best before date, as well as a recommendation for the safe storage of the self-tanning products, would nevertheless be very desirable for self-tanning products from natural cosmetics and conventional manufacturers.

Self-tan without DHA: Erythrulose is an alternative active ingredient in self-tanning products

The active ingredient Erythrulose is comparable to DHA in the way it works but is more stable. This sugar also develops a tan in the uppermost skin layer with a brown colouring due to the formation of melanoidin. Due to its stability, the formation of formaldehyde is very unlikely, however, this is the reason why tanning creams with erythrulose develop a tan much slower. The tan will start to appear after two days.

The advantages of using erythrulose in self-tanning products are the low formaldehyde release and a very even tan.

How long do self-tanners last?

How long your skin stays bronzed after using a self-tanner, depends on your skin. As self-tanners only have a superficial effect and the skin is constantly renewing itself throughout the day, the effect of self-tanners wears off after five to seven days. With the dead skin cells, the colour pigments also dissolve and the skin is no longer tanned.

Self-tanning oils and lotions are best suited for dry skin. Sprays or foams are perfect for oily or combination skin.

It is basically the same procedure as when your skin gets tanned from the sun.

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How to apply natural self-tanning products?

The correct application of self-tanners is the most important part of a flawless, natural-looking tan besides choosing a good product. Streaks, blotches on your ankles, knees and elbows or stains on your clothing must be avoided.

You should do this to avoid streaks and make your fake tan last long:

  • Exfoliate: Clean the skin regularly with an exfoliating product or a brush. With this step, you remove dead skin cells which may lead to blotches on certain areas of your body such as ankles, knees or elbows. You should exfoliate the day before you are applying the self-tanner. Optional shaving should be done a day before, too.
  • Shower: Immediately before applying the self-tan product, you should clean your skin from any oils, such as sweat or body creams.
  • Moisturize problem areas: Some patches of your body may be very dry, e.g. knees, elbows or the back of your hands. With moisturizing these areas before applying the product, you ensure that they won’t develop any streaks.
  • There is the right self-tanning product for every skin type or body area. Self-tanning oils and lotions are best suited for dry skin. For oily skin, self-tanning foams or sprays are best suited. There are also great self-tanning products, especially for the sensitive face area. Just go with whatever you usually like texture-wise.

This way your skin stays tanned longer

Most self-tanning products have to be left on the skin for several hours to develop the tan. In general: The longer the product remains on your skin, the stronger and more intense your tan will be.

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After several hours, usually four to six hours, you should wash the tanning product off your skin again. Please read the exact recommendations for your natural self-tan product.

  • Shower off with warm, not hot water. Do not use soap- or oil-based products such as shampoos or shower gel. These remove the freshly tanned skin cells faster.
  • Moisture is very important to keep your tan for a long time, both for tan build from the sun or from any self-tanner. However, do not use conventional moisturising lotions with alcohol. Natural oils such as coconut oil are perfect to moisturize the skin
  • e.g. protect your skin from harmful UV radiation.
  • Your tanned skin can give the appearance of natural protection against the sun. But it is not! Protection with sunscreen is therefore very important, also in order not to accelerate the dying off of skin cells by the rays.
  • If spots do appear due to the self-tanner, they can be easily removed with alcohol.

Tip: If you are using a self-tanner for the first time, choose a relaxing day at home. Start with a test on a small part of your body. Remove the self-tanner from your skin after half the time indicated to get a feel for the colour. Shower at least twice and wait several hours before putting on your favourite white dress.

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