The benefits of self-tan are clear: “While many people want a sun-kissed glow, the UVA and UVB rays of the sun are extremely damaging and aging,” says board-certified dermatologist Howard Sobel, MD. “Not only can the [sun] burn skin, but it can also create sun spots and wrinkles.” If self-tanner gets you to stay out of the sun’s damaging rays, that’s a good thing. But, according to dermatologists, there is a downside.

“There is one serious consideration with self-tanners,” explains Dr. Green. “Although you are not being exposed to UV rays, the Maillard reaction generates free radicals, which leads to oxidative stress, and these free radicals degrade collagen and elastin fibers, causing premature aging, wrinkles, and skin laxity.”

When UV light shines on self-tanned skin, it causes DHA to be even more unstable and can damage the skin further. Dr. Green prefers her patients to use makeup and bronzers to create a false tan look or opt for DHA-free tanner. (That’s “DHA-free,” not “vegan DHA” — according to King, all DHA is vegan.) Still, as Dr. Sobel puts it, “self-tanner is a much safer choice than laying out in the sun for hours.”

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to self-tan, the next step is applying a tanner so that it looks natural, non-streaky, and doesn’t break out your skin. Follow these steps to gloriously artificial glowing skin:

How to Choose a Self-Tanner

It all starts with the right self-tanner. Before you add any old tanner to cart, consider your skin type. “If you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, go for a self-tanner made specifically for the face, because it will be clinically tested not to block the pores [as long as it says noncomedogenic on the packaging], says Sophie Evans, tanning ambassador for St. Tropez Tan. If your skin isn’t sensitive or prone to breakouts, you can use a self-tan formulated for the body — but Evans recommends diluting it with your favorite facial moisturizer before application.

Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, agrees. She says DHA is generally considered safe when used topically on the skin. “But it should not be inhaled or applied to mucous membranes,” she adds. If you find yourself breaking out using a self-tanner on your face, Dr. King believes it’s most likely due to other ingredients in the formulation, not the DHA. ” Some self-tanners are oily and can clog pores and contribute to a buildup of bacteria,” she says.

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