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Does fake tan work on dark skin? I put it to the test

Words by Sohani Goonetillake

“Seeing people with darker skin tones embrace their melanin has me beaming with pride.”

The temperatures are a-plummetin’ and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for new ways to revive my dull skin. While I was scrolling through Instagram wondering how all these broke students can afford to jet-set to Europe, I realised I was craving a summer glow. 

My White friends would often bemoan about wanting a sun-kissed vacation tan and I wondered what would happen if I, a naturally tanned South-Asian woman, fake-tanned? Colour me curious. Could a bottle of tanning mousse be the solution to my lacklustre skin? 


We like nosy people. Don’t be shy, head to our Beauty section for more. 


People with darker skin tones have recently experimented with self-tanning products and yielded promising results. Black women on Tik Tok and YouTube have documented their positive experiences trialling products and, back in 2015, Mindy Kaling revealed in her book Why Not Me that she gets spray tans to even out her skin tone.  

Seeing people with darker skin tones embrace their melanin has me beaming with pride. Especially knowing that many of these people grew up with skin bleaching products by brands literally called Fair and Lovely on the shelves of their ethnic grocers.

Many people of colour, myself included, have seen fake tanning as a practice that reinforces Eurocentric standards of beauty. However, with brands expanding their ranges to include consumers with darker skin tones, the narrative is becoming increasingly inclusive – which I am very on board with.

To begin the road test, I followed generic tanning advice and prepped my skin appropriately by exfoliating, shaving and moisturising generously. The tanning products I decided to put to the test were from Australian brands Bondi Sands and Loving Tan, as well as products from The Isle of Paradise, a Mecca cult favourite.

For reference, I am medium deep with neutral and warm undertones and my shade is Cadiz in NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation and 330 Toffee Caramel in the Maybelline Matte + Poreless Range. 

Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam in Ultra Dark

 

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I am obsessed with this product! The coconut scent is a nice bonus.

Colour-match and finish: The colour match was spot on in terms of the skin colour I normally am in summer and it looked very natural. The finish was velvety and radiant and the mousse consistency meant that I could apply it easily, streak-free.

Coverage: I applied three coats and it did not cover up my stretch marks, but it did even out my skin tone and blur out small imperfections. It mimicked the sort of sheer coverage you’d get from a light foundation. 

Repurchase? Yes!

Loving Tan Deluxe Bronzing Mousse in Ultra Dark

 

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I chose the darkest shade available and couldn’t help but smile at the warning underneath the label: ‘EXPERIENCED TANNERS ONLY’.

Colour-match and finish: At first, the colour match was not it. It had a red tinge which made me look sunburnt, not suntanned. That said, it could have been better suited to people whose complexion has pink undertones. However, after a shower six hours later, I was surprised to see the tan was just as nice as the Bondi Sands one and may even last longer. 

Coverage: I applied three coats and the coverage was just as good as the Bondi Sands product.

Repurchase? Nope. Purely because there are more affordable options.

The Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Oil Mist and Self-Tanning Drops in Dark

The packaging was so pretty but I was not a fan of the mist compared to the mousse consistency. I was not able to see clearly which parts of my body I had already sprayed. Conversely, the self-tanning drops were easy to mix in with my moisturiser.

Colour match and finish: The colour match of both products was satisfactory because there was very subtle coverage. It left my skin with a satin finish and it did make my melanin pop.

Coverage: I sprayed three coats of the mist (I think, it was hard to keep track with the mist) and mixed ten drops into my moisturiser but the coverage was still very subtle. It didn’t do much to even out my skin tone or blur any imperfections. I may use the mist on top of the Bondi Sands one to refresh it, but I don’t think it’s worth the splurge.

Repurchase? Nope.

I was pleasantly surprised with how well the road test went and the vast array of options out there for people with darker skin tones. The two main concerns I had with the process were how subjective the product shade labels were and how most of the ultra-dark colour options were priced significantly higher than the lighter shades.

I was hesitant to pick up bottles labelled ‘Dark’ as I was being mindful not to Blackfish, only to turn the bottle around to see a White model applying the product. Not exactly dark for everyone.

Most of the tanning market uses an outdated colour guide with labels such as ‘light’, ‘medium’ and ‘dark’, instead of focussing on the skin’s undertones. 

As luxury tanning expert Amanda Harrington explains, self-tanning technology can be improved by focusing more on the base colours of the tints and the skin’s undertones instead of increasing the percentage of DHA (tanning agent). That way people can add warmth and enhance what their skin already has without buying into the transformational element of self-tanning.

These products need to cater to everyone, otherwise self-tanning really does become more about tan skin only being acceptable on White bodies and less about achieving the sun-kissed holiday look. But, seeing as none of the products I tried left me with a lasting ashy or tangerine hue, it looks like brands are on the right track.

Head here to see more self-tanner recommendations for dark skin tones.

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