Yes, You Can Self-Tan Darker Skin Tones — Here's What to Know

Every editorial product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn commission.

  • Self-tanning is one of the safest ways to achieve a tan.
  • People with darker skin tones can also self-tan, but the results differ from those with lighter skin.
  • Two pros are sharing the best tips for self-tanning deeper skin tones.

Depending on how you feel about summer, the warmer months may stir up a few feelings. One is the desire to completely upend your closet and fill it with new clothes. Another could be a strong itch to add a new piece to your tattoo collections. The other? The undeniable urge to get a tan.

Despite more education around the dangers of tanning beds and sitting out in the sun slathered in baby oil, tanning is still a popular beauty activity that people take part in year-round. As a result, many brands have doubled down on re-creating that bronzed look without the sun. "Self-tanner is the only safe tanning method," Liz Agresta, founder and director of Australian Glow, tells POPSUGAR. "With the right product, it is a fantastic alternative that allows you to create an often instant glow that looks just as good as the real deal — sans harmful UV ray exposure."

For years, it has been assumed that self-tanner only shows up on light to medium skin tones, but that perception has been rapidly changing. Influencers like Jackie Aina and estheticians Alicia Lartey and Tiara Willis have all been advocates of the faux glow on deeper skin tones, educating their followers on the benefits.

Still, there are a few things to know about the self-tanning process to better understand how to make it work for your deeper skin tone. We're breaking it all down ahead.

What Is Self-Tanner?

While formulations differ from product to product, what makes most self-tanners effective is an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. "Self-tanner in today's world is available in so many different product types, formulas, and variations, but what makes a product a self-tanning product is an ingredient called DHA," Agresta says. "This ingredient reacts with amino acids on the outermost layer of your skin, which is made up of dead skin cells and creates an artificial tan."

Whats the Difference When Self-Tanning Dark Skin Tones?

While the process for applying and using a self-tanner is the same, the results that you get may differ depending on your skin tone. "Self-tanner on deeper skin tones does differ from tanning lighter skin tones," Willis says. "Instead of drastically making the skin darker, it gives the skin an even appearance with a glow."

Self-tan can also help to mask the appearance of a few common skin concerns. "Self-tanner on deeper skin tones is excellent for temporarily reducing the appearance of dark marks, keratosis pilaris or bumps, and stretch marks," Willis says.

Agresta agrees. "Self-tanning can be used to help us to feel more confident and empowered," she says. "Tanning on deeper skin tones can help to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, even out the skin tone, create definition on the arms, chest, and legs, and overall just give your skin tone a beautiful glow."

What to Keep in Mind When Self-Tanning Deeper Skin Tones

There are numerous self-tanners on the market, so the key is finding one for your specific needs. "You have to find a tanner that's the right tone for you," Willis says. "Different self-tanners will have guide charts for the right color tanner for your skin tones. You should also look for tanners that have an olive base to counteract the orange look that sometimes comes from using self tanner."

Another key to finding your perfect self-tan is to keep the results you want in mind. "The self-tanner you choose depends on the occasion that you are tanning for," Augusta says. "If you are wanting to achieve a glow that accentuates the color of your outfit for Friday night, try a medium or gradual tanning lotion. If you are wanting to have a deeper tan that mimics a two-week vacation in the sun, go for the dark or ultra-dark shade. Keep in mind, the longer the product is left on, the more time it has to develop on your skin."

Self-Tanning Tips For Beginners

Woman with sunburn
Getty | Ralf Nau

There are a few things to keep in mind when self-tanning, no matter your skin tone. "The DHA process is naturally dehydrating, so it's important to understand this and reach for a product with a formula that helps to rehydrate the skin," Agresta says. "Look for natural ingredients along with fan favorite skin-care ingredients like hyaluronic acid. Also, if you're a first timer, always do a patch test" [to make sure you're not allergic to any ingredients].

Willis has a few steps that you can follow if self-tanning for the first time. "Always make sure to exfoliate and moisturize your hands, elbows, and knees before using tanner, because those areas easily become overprocessed and look unnatural," she says. To combat this, Willis recommends applying tanner on your legs, arms, and body with a mitt and using the residue that is left over on your hands, knees, elbows, and feet.

Also of important note: self-tanners often need time to properly dry and set. "When using a self-tanner, make sure to follow the instructions carefully. Using broad-spectrum sunscreen, moisturizer, other creams, or water on your skin before the tanner has been processed can cause it to look runny," Willis says.

The Best Self-Tanners For Dark Skin Tones

If you've decided to try self-tanner, Agresta and Willis have a few favorite formulas to consider. "If you are after a true self-tanning experience that mimics a post-vacation glow, try Australian Glow's Self-Tanning Mousse in Ultra Dark ($30)," Agresta says.

As for Willis, she loves the Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam Liquid Gold ($26). "It's moisturizing, smells of coconut, and is touch-dry in seconds. It also contains no bronzer, so it won't stain your sheets," she says.

Self-tanning for deeper skin tones is not a novel concept, but the idea is finally starting to become mainstream. Should you have some skin concerns that you would like to hide, or just want bronzed, glowy skin year-round, self-tanners are the easiest alternative to get a customized "I woke up like this" glow — sans unnecessary exposure to UV rays.