Using a Self-Tanner Doesn’t Mean You Can Skip the SPF—Here’s How to Pair the 2 for Streak-Free Protection

A young Indonesian woman smiles with a young coconut at a sunny beach in Canggu, Bali.
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Here at W+G, we can’t (and won’t!) stop talking about the importance of sun protection. And our rules for defending your skin against UV damage are simple: make sunscreen your best friend, reapply often, and opt for SPF 30 or higher. But following these rules doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a sunkissed complexion from June to September. Instead of spending hours tanning, we recommend turning to sunless solutions that give you a gorgeous glow without compromising your skin’s health.

Whether you prefer at-home self-tanners or spray tans, these no-sun solutions are great for faking a day at the beach without exposing skin to harsh UV rays. “They most likely mitigate sun damage by eliminating the desire to go to tanning beds or layout because when you already have a spray tan, there’s no need to seek out a tan,” says Courtney Claghorn, founder and President of Sugared + Bronzed, a spray tan studio with locations in Los Angeles, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Aside from keeping you out of the sun, though, they don't provide nearly enough UV protection on their own. “While spray tans provide a small amount of sun protection, we don’t like to claim that spray tans alone mitigate sun damage,” says Claghorn, which means it's still important to layer on SPF when you're heading outside this summer.

The problem, though, is that sunscreens and sunless tanning formulas don't always play well together, so you'll need to pick the proper SPF formula to avoid streaking, fading, or flaking.

1. Properly prep your skin

According to Loretta Ciraldo, MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, self-tanner and spray tans add pigmentation to the outermost layer of our skin—the corneocytes. To maintain a spray tan or self-tanner for longer, she says it’s important to “exfoliate before you use either of these to achieve the best, most even results from them.”

2. Opt for hydrating sunscreens

“When you have a spray tan, continue to protect yourself with hydrating lotions and sunscreens,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. “They not only preserve the life of the spray tan, but also offer vital sun protection to prevent skin cancers and premature aging.”  She explains that when we give our skin extra hydration through ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and Vitamin E, it can hold onto the extra color rather than flake.

Beyond your SPF, Claghorn recommends “moisturizing regularly and drinking a lot of fluid” to ensure that the skin and body stay hydrated during these extra hot months.

3. Steer clear of mineral and alcohol-based formulas

To avoid a streaky look, Dr. Ciraldo recommends steering clear of zinc or mineral sunscreen because even though they’re great for sensitive skin, they tend to make tans look chalky.

Dr. Nazarian adds that “Alcohol-based sunscreens, the sprays, gels, and serums, are also more likely to shorten the lifespan of a tan.” Because finding a sunscreen that's totally alcohol-free can be tricky, the good news is that some forms of alcohol aren't that bad or irritating—you'll just want to be extra mindful of the ingredients list of whatever sunscreen you're buying. "Having alcohol as the first ingredient, and listed in its simple form, alcohol denat, is likely way too drying for someone with a spray tan," says Dr. Nazarian.

Shop sunscreens

Glossier Invisible Shield — $25.00

This alcohol-free SPF goes on sheer and has a subtle orange scent. It’s thick, like Vaseline, but isn’t greasy, and absorbs easily into your skin as you rub it in.

Photo: Neutrogena
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30 — $14.00

Like all of Neutrogena’s Hydroboost products, this SPF 50 formula is packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid that acts as a tall drink of water for your skin. It’s oil-free, and feels more like a luxurious lotion than a goopy, greasy sunblock.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Body & Face Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 100 — $27.00

Get maximum protection (SPF 100!!) and moisturization with this sunscreen “milk,” which melts into your skin to deliver chemical UV defense.

Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30
Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 — $16.00

This sheer sunscreen—which was designed to blend invisibly with darker skin tones—combines its sun-protective properties with moisturizing ingredients like avocado, jojoba, cacao, carrot juice, and sunflower oil.

Shop sunless tanners

Jergens Natural Glow In-shower Lotion

Jergens has long held its status as one of the best at-home self-tanners, and its performance goes above and beyond what its drugstore price point may suggest. This in-shower moisturizer is meant to be used on wet skin, and blends with water to lock in moisture for a subtle glow that doesn’t look dull or dry. It comes in multiple shades so you can get the perfect “just got back from vacation” look without overdoing it.

Supergoop Healthy Glow Sunless Tan — $38.00

In case you needed more of an excuse to apply sunscreen every day, this SPF/self-tanner hybrid offers SPF 40 protection and will make your skin look increasingly sunkissed over time. The best part? It won’t leave behind any of that oh-so-recognizable “fake tan” scent.

Sugared + Bronzed Sunless Tanning Water — $24.00

This botanical-infused spray will offer instant hydration and dewiness while delivering a gradual tan to your face and body. Simply spritz it onto your skin, and wait 8 hours to rinse it off for maximum results.

Tan-Luxe Super Glow with SPF 30 — $56.00

Another SPF option, these Tan Luxe drops are made with hyaluronic acid, which hydrates your skin so that it can better hold onto the sunless tan they deliver.

Want even more beauty intel from our editors? Follow our Fineprint Instagram account) for must-know tips and tricks.

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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