October 6, 2022

Shot of a young woman posing outside

As a Black woman, I always thought tanning products weren’t meant for me. But recently, more Black women have been experimenting with self-tanners. Beauty influencers like Imani Kayeye and Challan have taken to TikTok to document their self-tanning experience, with each of their videos garnering over one million views. Meanwhile, TikTok hashtags like #blackgirlstan and#blackgirltanning have amassed over four million views, respectively.

Wanting to understand what’s fueled Black women’s widespread interest in self-tanning, I decided to chat with estheticians Emani Mone Jeter, Tiara Willis, and Alicia Lartey. Each of them has had unique journeys with self-tanner, with Jeter learning about the products from her mom. “She was always doing it to even out her skin tone,” she says. “My mom worked in the beauty industry and would use self-tanner to give her a glow on stage instead of stockings.”

London-based Lartey, who goes by the name “Self Tanning Extraordinaire” on Twitter, has been using self-tanner for years. “It’s something I saw all around me growing up as I went to school in an Essex adjacent area,” she explains. “Self-tanning is one of my favorite parts of my beauty routine.”

From enhancing glow to evening skin tone, it’s clear there are plenty of reasons why Black women are turning to self-tanning. Ahead the three skincare pros discuss the appeal of self-tanner, application tips, and the best self-tanning products.

The Benefits

Lartey says one of the main benefits of self-tanner is that “it gives [our skin] an airbrushed glow.” She and Jeter say the resulting look is reminiscent of sunkissed skin after a vacation. While radiant skin is a major upside of self-tanning, it’s not the only benefit.

Skin conditions like keratosis pilaris, strawberry legs, and hyperpigmentation1 are extremely common in the Black community. Our experts say a fake tan can help even skin tone and hide discoloration. Willis also points out that self-tanning can help reduce sun-related skin issues. “[We can help prevent] sun damage by not relying on [damaging] UV rays for a tan,” she says.2

How to Apply Self-Tanning Products 

It’s important to prep your skin before applying a self-tanner. “People always forget about the pre-care, but it’s the only way you’ll make your tan look as good as possible,” Jeter notes.

Jeter and Tiara recommend exfoliating beforehand for the best results. “You don’t want to put tanning products on top of dead skin,” Willis says. After sloughing away dead skin, you can move on to your preferred hair removal method. “If you’re waxing, you need to wait 48 hours before applying self-tanner because your pores are still open and can collect excess tanner, which creates spots all over your skin,” Willis points out.

When you’re finally ready to use your self-tanning product, it’s essential to read the directions carefully. There are many forms of self-tanner (like water, mousse, and lotion)—if you try to use them without checking the instructions, you could end up with a streaky tan.

Correctly applying the product requires a bit of strategy and planning. “I advise people to do it in their bathroom rather than their bedroom,” Lartey says. “Do your hands, feet, and wrists last and always move quickly when applying to avoid streaks.”

To ensure the bronzy color lasts, Jeter encourages users to apply a dry oil as their tan starts to deepen. “It really locks everything in,” she says.

The Best Self-Tanning Products

Alicia’s Picks

Alicia Lartey
ALICIA LARTEY

“For beginners, I would suggest going for a gradual tanning lotion or a clear tan, so it does not stain your bed sheets,” Lartey explains. “The Dove Derma Spa Summer Revived ($10) is one of my favorite tans ever to exist—it’s affordable and very user-friendly. The Bondi Sands Pure Range ($27) is also wonderful for those not used to traditional tanning foams. It will not stain your bedsheets.

Tiara’s Picks

Tiara Willis
TIARA WILLIS

“I recommend starting with a gradual tanning lotion like Jergens Natural Glow ($9),” Willis says. “For a more dramatic tan, I recommend Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam ($24). It will not stain sheets; you can apply it before bed so it will be fully processed by morning.”

Emani’s Picks 

Emani Mone Jeter
EMANI MONE JETER

Jeter suggests using her brand’s AHA Beauty Polish ($40) to prep your skin for self-tanner. It contains a blend of glycolic, malic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids to help exfoliate. To further enhance your skin’s glow in the days after self-tanning, you can use the Cleopatra Body Highlighter ($49). The non-sticky liquid adds a beautiful touch of shimmer to your skin while nourishing it—thanks to grapeseed, jojoba, and argan oil.