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3 Types of Sunless Tanners: Which Is Right for You?

What kind of science transforms pasty limbs to the perfect shade of sun-kissed? It depends on the formula.

Photography by: Mark Platt

Instant Tanners

These contain quick-drying dyes that immediately impart a bronzed look. While they won’t rub off on clothes, they will rinse away with soap and water.


Sunless Tanners

Most self-tanners fall into this category. The formulas are made with dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar molecule that reacts to amino acids on the skin’s surface to darken it—usually within three hours of application. The effect remains until the skin cells naturally slough off, taking the faux bronze color away with them. The drawback? Mistakes are obvious and can stick around for days (though you can speed the process by exfoliating). For application tips, see 4 Steps to Applying Sunless Tanners Perfectly.


Gradual Tanners

Using these daily will mimic the gradual darkening of a natural tan. Formulated as body creams with a hint of DHA, they moisturize your skin while incrementally darkening it with each application.