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Everything you need to know about fake tan for sensitive skin

April 19th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 2 comments


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Do you react to fake tan? Anna Hunter shares her tanning tales of going from pale to bronzed, with top tips on the best self tanners for sensitive skin

My mum would call me a classic English Rose. She’s just trying to be nice. What she means is that I’ve inherited my dad’s Celtic complexion, as opposed to her own God-given golden glow.

When I discovered that fake tan existed I think I was eleven. I went on holiday with my dad and spent not an insignificant part of the trip in a New Zealand branch of The Body Shop, spending my pocket money on loofahs and vast quantities of pungent fake tan that was highly unsuited to my ghostly natural hue, and really more akin to Nutella in shade and consistency than the sophisticated formulas we have come to know and love today. I also got cornrows on that holiday. It wasn’t a great time for me. I think my dad figured it was better that I experimented with ill-suited hair and beauty looks than older boys or alcopops. He was right of course, but the memories still haunt me.

I soon resigned myself to the fact that, for me at least, pasty was in fact prettier and probably preferable given the odd sludge colour I achieved with the fake stuff. I left well alone for a while, and with time tanning technology evolved. Shades became more convincing, application more user-friendly and the spray tan of today can be sculpting, subtle and entirely streak free.

Granted, the reality stars of this world don’t do a lot to polish up the tarnished image of the humble self-tan, but as long as you don’t develop tanning dysmorphia à la TOWIE, a touch of tan can bring sallow skin alive whilst hiding a multitude of sins (spots, stretch marks and sagging all recede under the soft-focus glow of a good self-tan).

Unfortunately, while tanning became more sophisticated, apparently my SELFISH skin got sensitive. As I am not generally reactive on the dermatological front, I slathered on tan on the first day of “summer” last year with sheer abandon and not a second thought. I came to regret my voraciousness approximately an hour later, when my skin became red, itchy and very… angry. I think it was trying to tell me something along the lines of ‘stop it with the turning me brown thing already, I am lily white and proud’.

I can see where skin is coming from, but nevertheless I will not submit myself to its selfishness for life. Sometimes, you just want to look like you’ve been on holiday when you’ve made the effort to go on holiday.

I will not take no for an answer, so I bring you a selection of the best self tanners for sensitive skin.

The expert's opinion

My quest for a gentler glow giver started with St Tropez brand expert and Get The Gloss expert Michaella Bolder. I felt that I needed someone in the know to hold my hand for my first trip back to tanville; Michaella has tanned everyone from alabaster Emilia Fox to the bronzed ‘Body’ Elle Macpherson, so I was feeling confident. Michaella was keen to point out that skin sensitivity can arise from a range of different factors:

“All skin types are different and allergies vary, it could be that you are sensitive to perfume, alcohol or in some cases DHA (Dihydroxacetone - the skin colouring agent present in fake tan). If it is DHA that you are sensitive to, another option is the St Tropez Wash Off range, which is perfect as it contains no DHA ingredients.”

Taking care of sensitive skin prior, during and after fake tanning should be top priority. Michaella suggests choosing "a gentle body exfoliator, as a smaller grain will be less abrasive to the skin’s surface. Aloe Vera based moisturiser will keep your skin soft and supple, with the added benefit that your tan will last longer with regular use".

While I had a great experience with the St Tropez Sensitive range, hinting that it probably was not in fact the DHA that caused me irritation, tanning guru James Harknett highlights that DHA sensitivity affects roughly "one in 50,000 people". As it is found in all wear-off tanning products, James advises conducting a patch test behind the ear 24 hours before applying self-tan if you have never used a product containing DHA previously. If it’s a little too late for that and a red, itchy reaction has already occurred, James advises jumping in the (cool) shower as soon as possible.

Working with your skin type

If you have ruled out DHA but are still suffering skin-wise, James has some invaluable inside knowledge to help you get back on track.

“There are some amazing products available for those who have certain skin conditions such as dryness and eczema. DHA can be extremely dehydrating in itself, so if you are prone to dryness I recommend Clarins Liquid Bronze, £20, for the face. It has a light textured formula that is kind to sensitive skin and it feels really refreshing on application.”

For an all-over body solution, James recommends avoiding naughty alcohol and parabens at all costs. Sienna X tanning products are free of both of these nasties and also contain skin soothing Aloe Vera. James also loves the range for its variety of tanning strengths:

“There are eight different strengths to choose from, which means that you can choose a lighter colour, which has the benefit of being less dehydrating.”

MORE GLOSS: 10 fake tan tips everyone needs to know

It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s important to treat the initial skin problem for at least two weeks prior to tanning, so if you have an eczema or psoriasis flare up wait for at least a fortnight before tanning with a gentle tanner that is suitable for sensitive skins.

As well as St Tropez Sensitive and Sienna X, there are some great fake tans for dry or reactive skin on the market. Again, a patch test is advised before use, and if you are pregnant always test before applying a self-tan even if you did not previously suffer a reaction, as changes in hormone levels can make skin more prone to sensitivity.

Here are my best fake tans for sensitive skin...

The Thermal Spring Water One: Vichy Capital Soleil Self Tan, £14

Vichy Laboratoires are renowned for their hypoallergenic, soothing thermal spa water based products, and this self-tan qualifies on both counts. Tested on sensitive skin under dermatological control, this hydrating cream is rich in vitamin E and delivers a natural sunkissed glow one hour after application. A great option for hesitant first timers.


The Protective One: Bioderma PHOTODERM Autobronzant Moisturising Tanning Spray, £15.65

Bioderma is a cult French brand that is a favourite of physicians and pharmacists and renowned for its corrective skincare solutions. This softening, skin-quenching mist contains no alcohol, and although it contains a delicate fragrance, the perfume used is allergen-free. The spray is also formulated with the exclusive Cellular BIOprotection® patent, an agent that activates the skin’s natural defences, protecting the cell’s DNA and preventing photo-ageing. Basically, it’s the James Bond of the tanning world.


The Ultra Moisturising One: Sisley Self Tanning Hydrating Body Skin Care, £82.50

Sisley’s ‘new generation’ self tanner provides exceptional levels of comfort and moisture thanks to circulation boosting ingredients that help the epidermis to retain water. Extracts of stevia leaf, vegetal glycerine, and sunflower oil team up with vitamin E to keep skin supple, and a unique DHA and Erythrulose formulation ensures that your tan looks luminous and lasts for days. The lasting effect is a bonus for dryer skin types, as fewer applications are required to maintain an even, expensive looking tan (less exposure to DHA can reduce dryness). If you’re feeling flash, this one is worth the investment.


The Green One: The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan, £38

Developed using a natural Sugar Beet DHA, this tan is environmentally saintly. Naturally derived DHA is also said to be less likely to trigger skin reactions, so this could be a win-win if you’re as dermatologically reactive as you are eco-conscious. The tan contains organic rye alcohol, which is considered to be a gentler alternative to harsher alcohol contained in other tanning products, and a combination of organic Aloe and organic shea butter keeps skin nourished. A sensitive skinned friend reported results akin to a short sojourn in the Mediterranean, although it was a bit tricky to rub in.


The Mineral One: BareMinerals Faux Tan Body, £20

This bronze beauty doesn’t clog pores and is free from artificial oils and parabens, reducing the odds of nasty reactions or irritations. A natural derived mineral copper complex is also a marker for it being less harsh on tender skins, while Aloe Vera and vegetable derived emollients add some serious hydrating power. The amber-tinted formula is also a bonus, as you will glow from the get go and it'll help guard against ugly streaks or uneven application too.


A final word - while these self-tanners may be more sympathetic to sensitive skins, everyone reacts in different ways and for different reasons. If you get into a spot of bother with any of the above, shower, then make a dash for Judy Johnson’s Sense and Sensitivity column for advice on what to do. Happy bronzing!

Follow me on Instagram @annyhunter.


Join the conversation

  • Christy
  • April 10th 2017

I use Chamonix Skin Care products for tan skin and the results are m not satisfied with the results lookinf forward to use these products. But I personally feel Whatever products you may use, tan will still appear if you don't take certain precautions like wearing sunglasses while going outside. If you want to safe yourself from tanning try wearing UV protected pairs. You can get them online from Wholesale sunglasses distributor sites like, Oakley they are having affordable sunglasses.

  • Alice
  • May 2nd 2015

fantastic article! X

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