Should You Bother With a Facial Self-Tanner?

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It’s hard to believe that DHA (the active ingredient in self-tanners) was first discovered to have skin “tanning” effects by German scientists in the 1920’s. But self-tanners didn’t really become popular until the 80s when tanning became HUGE.

But even then, self-tanners were notorious for being hard to apply, smelling awful, and worst of all, leaving you looking like a giant Cheeto.

In the past decade, however, self-tanners have come a long way. And with the new innovations in self-tanning, self-tanners these days are easier to apply, leaving less room for error (a.k.a. streaks and blotches), smell way better, and most importantly, look a LOT more natural than their former predecessors. 

So what about face tanners? Should you bother with a facial self-tanner? Can you just use a regular tanner on your face and skip the multi-product shuffle?

Well as it turns out, facial tanners are legit.

In this article, we are going to talk about self-tanners, the differences between self-tanner for the body and facial self-tanner, and why you should bother with a facial self-tanner.

We’ve even added some pro tips for facial self-tanner application.


What is Self-Tanner and How Does it Work?

Self-tanner is basically a tan in a bottle that you apply yourself. It’s a no-fuss way to get that tanned look in the comfort of your own home, without the harmful effects of UV rays of the sun or tanning beds.

Both body and face tanners tan your skin using Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This substance creates a chemical reaction with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulates a tan.

Why Do I Need a Separate Self-Tanner for My Face?

Coco & Eve Face Tanner

You need a different self-tanner for your face than the rest of your body, just like you need a different moisturizer for your face and body.

Simply put, the skin on your face is very different from the rest of your skin. It’s different in three main ways:

1. Much Thinner

In fact, it can be up to ten times thinner than the skin found on the parts of the body like the palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. 

2. More Pores

Each pore on the surface of the skin is an opening to a canal called a follicle. Each hair follicle contains a hair, a sweat gland, and a sebaceous gland (oil gland). We have more of a concentration of pores/follicles on our face than on the rest of our bodies. 

3. Higher Cell Turnover Rate

Because our skin is thinner on our faces and it’s usually the most exposed to the elements, it has a higher skin cell turnover rate. This means that you shed skin cells faster on your face than you do on the rest of your body.

Because of this, if you have a natural sun tan, the skin on your face tends to naturally be lighter than the rest of your body. And when you’re using a self-tanner, you want it to look natural, right?

If you have a natural sun tan, the skin on your face tends to naturally be lighter than the rest of your body. And when you’re using a self-tanner, you want it to look natural, right?

All of these differences combined makes the skin on our faces more sensitive and more prone to breakouts and other skin issues. This is whyyou should be using a different formula of self-tanner for your face than the rest of your body.

These skin differences also affect how self-tanner looks and how long it lasts.

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How is Facial Self-Tanner Different from Body Self-Tanner?

Beauty By Earth Face Tanner

Facial self-tanner is specially formulated to be non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores. This is important because we have a lot more of a concentration of pores on our face than the rest of our bodies.

The pores on your face also tend to be bigger, which means they are more easily clogged.

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How to Choose the Right Facial Self-Tanner

First step is to look for a self-tanner specifically made for the face. This is especially important if you are prone to breakouts. 

If you are also doing the rest of your body, choose a color that is a little lighter than your body self-tanner color. This will look much more natural.

If it’s winter and you’re just looking to get a little color on your face, while everything else is under wraps, then go for a slightly lighter color than you think you need. 

If you are worried about it coming out darker than you wanted, opt for a gradual tanner so you can work your way up to the desired bronze.

We’re big fans of tanning drops, which are one of the new big self-tanning trends. These small bottles contain powerful self-tanners that get mixed in with your moisturizer. You just apply your moisturizer and voila beautiful tanned skin on your face!

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Pro Tips for Applying Facial Self-Tanner

1. Do What You Gotta Do First, then Apply

After applying facial self-tanner, doing things like eating or drinking or brushing your teeth can mess up the tan around your mouth. So make sure you do what you gotta do before applying your facial self-tanner so as to prevent it from accidentally being rubbed off.

This is why it’s best to apply self-tanner before you go to bed.

It’s best to apply self-tanner before you go to bed.

2. Clean Your Face

Always start off by cleansing your face to remove any makeup, oil and dirt before applying self-tanner.

3. Exfoliate

Just as when applying self-tanner to the rest of your body, you should exfoliate first. This will help slough off dead skin cells and even out the texture of your skin, so your tanner will go on more smoothly and evenly.

Exfoliating is also important because it will make your tan last longer. 

Remember self-tanner works by reacting with the dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to give you a tan. Exfoliating means that your tanner is reacting with the ‘most recently dead’ skin cells, as opposed to the ones that were just about to shed and take your tan along with it.

4. Ice, Ice, Baby

Use an ice cube, or even just a cold wash cloth to cool your face and close pores before you apply the self-tanner. Just make sure your face is completely dry before application.

This will help prevent the tanner from settling into pores.

5. Use an Oil-Free Moisturizer on Your Hairline

If you have light hair, self-tanner can leave you with a slightly darker hairline. Trying to avoid it will have you ending up with a white line around your face where you were trying not to get it in your hair.

A little lotion along the hairline is all it takes and problem solved.

A little lotion along the hairline is all it takes and problem solved.

6. Use your Face Tanner for Your Neck

Use your face tanner on your neck! Otherwise, the different color on your face and neck is a total giveaway that it’s a self-tanner. 

7. Don’t Miss Often Forgotten Spots

Make sure you do the back of your neck, ears, between your nose and upper lip. And if you’re only doing your face, also do your neck! And don’t forget your décolletage should you decide to wear something with a plunging neckline. 

8. Apply Translucent Powder

If you are self-tanning before bed, after applying the self-tanner and it’s already dried, apply a translucent powder to help avoid smudging.

9. Don’t Sleep On Your Expensive Bed Linens

Whether it be for your face or body, if applying it before bed, it’s best to have a designated sheet and pillowcase set expressly for sleeping after applying a self-tanner.

They actually make black sheet sets for exactly that, but most of us have a ratty old ‘in case of emergency’ sheet set at the back of the linen closet somewhere. Use those as opposed to your 700-thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets or your grandmother’s heirloom afghan. 

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Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).