Black Women Are Loving Self-Tanners—Here’s Why

Beauty

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Misconceptions about Black skin and the sun have existed for as long as we can remember. For years, I convinced myself that because of my melanin, I didn’t need to wear sunscreen, and that sunless tanning—think spray tanning and self-tanner—added no value to my beauty routines. However, over the years, both myths have proven the furthest from the truth.

I can speak to it firsthand as a Black girl who loves spray tanning (yes, you read that right). My first experience came when I met celebrity tanning artist Alexandra DiMarchi. Her clientele, which includes celebs such as Jordyn Woods and a slew of other Black A-listers, is proof that not only are Black women leaning into the treatment, but also that it’s in incredibly high demand.

As one can imagine, my response to her offer was not only, “Do Black girls do that?” But also, “Do you know how to do that for Black girls?” I quickly learned that the answer to both would be an emphatic “yes.”

“Many Black clients seek sunless tanners to even out their skin tone, enhance their radiance, and achieve a healthy glow,” DiMarchi says. “Skin discoloration can be more noticeable on darker skin tones due to the contrast, making evening out the complexion a common goal.”

She also says that with added awareness of the dangers of sun exposure, Black women are equally concerned about protecting their skin from sun damage. “While sunburn may not be as visibly noticeable on darker skin, it still causes damage,” she says. “Therefore, sun protection remains a priority alongside using sunless tanners for aesthetic enhancement.”

However, with DiMarchi based in LA and me in NYC, I could not properly keep up with treatments, but she assured me that an at-home self-tanner could help me achieve the same effect in her absence. For me, she suggested Tan-Luxe in medium-dark, which left my skin with a luminosity unlike anything I had experienced before.

“Self-tanning products contain an ingredient called DHA (dihydroxyacetone),” she says. DHA reacts with the amino acids and proteins in your skin, leading to the browning effect that gives you a tanned appearance.” Similar to shades of foundation or hair dye, there are a myriad of shades available for Black skin. “This variety allows you to choose a product that best matches your skin tone, ensuring a more natural and customized look.”

While Black women like me are increasingly proving not to be a rarity, our tanning practices are still not widely accepted. “The first time I ever posted a video about it, a lot of people were saying things like I wanted to be white, that I was already too dark, and that I needed to leave my skin alone,” influencer Beyonce Janvier says. Her frequent TikToks on self-tanning have become a go-to for Black women interested in this beauty treatment. “I also had some people telling me what I was doing was stupid since I could just go out into the sun and tan. But in my most recent video, I feel like [many] people were more curious and wanted to give it a try.”

Like me, Janvier loves the glow she receives when she does it, especially during the summer months when she’s showing more skin and going outside more frequently. “I genuinely feel like my skin glows so much more when I’m darker,” she says. “It helps even out my skin tone, and I really like how it looks.”

And while your complexion may appear more radiant, it’s important to note that self-tanning is not a substitute for proper skin protection. “They do no harm but, at the same time, do no good,” board-certified dermatologist and ELLE Beauty Advisory Board member Dr. Mona Gohara says. “Meaning they do not offer any protection from UV light. They can cause harm if they are used without SPF – in this situation, the skin is afforded no protection from harmful UV rays, which may lead to skin cancer, unwanted cosmetic effects later in life, or both. Remember that 90 percent of skin cancers and visible signs of aging come from unprotected daily exposure to UV light.”


How to Self-Tan According to DiMarchi

Exfoliate

Start by exfoliating your skin to remove dead skin cells. This step is crucial because applying a tanner over dead skin can cause the tan to flake off and look patchy. You can use mechanical exfoliators like pumice stones, and body scrubs, or chemical exfoliants like lactic, glycolic, or salicylic acids. Dr. Zeichner recommends using a manual scrub for immediate improvement in eliminating skin flakes. If you regularly use a chemical exfoliator, additional physical exfoliation may not be necessary.

Shave

After exfoliating, shave your skin. Shaving removes hair and serves as an additional form of exfoliation, enhancing your self-tanning results. Shave last to avoid stripping off any color if you’re applying a spray tan later.

Moisturize

Soften your skin with your favorite moisturizing body wash. This step creates a smooth canvas for the tanning product, helping it apply evenly.

Remember to pay extra attention to areas of constant friction like soles, elbows, and knees, as these areas tend to be thicker and can absorb more tanner, leading to uneven results. Following these steps will help you achieve a smooth and even tan.

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