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I tried the world’s first self-tanning bar—here’s what happened


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Photo: Stocksy/Aleksandar Novoseski
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Even though I’m naturally pale, I’m not the sort of girl who vampires out in the summer—I want a tan. I’m just conscious about obtaining a healthy glow in a safe way, of course.

That’s why self-tanners are so magical—they require zero sunlight (so no UV damage or uncomfortable levels of sweating). Of course, self-tanner comes with its own setbacks. Find me someone who’s successfully applied theirs sans streakiness and I’ll shake their (non-orange stained) hand. So when not a spray, lotion, or cream, but a tanning bar came across my beauty product-laden desk, my eyebrows raised in disbelief.

It comes via Ethique Beauty’s The Bombshell ($32), which the brand claims is the first of its kind. “I have teenage memories of streaks, patches, and orange tans,” says Brianne West, Ethique’s founder and formulator (who totally relates to my self-tanning woes). “I made [Bombshell] with the idea that it must be easy to use.”

Does the solid, soap-like bronzer live up to its lofty promise of making self-tanning simple, subtle, and chemical-free?

I put the bar to the test to find out—here’s what happened when I used a self-tanning bar on my skin.

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ethique self tanner
Photo: Ethique

When I first see the box, I assume that the the tanning bar looks just like a bar of soap—but as I unwrap the bronzing concoction, I peel back a thin white wrapper to reveal a second layer. Turns out, the actual product’s got a very mud-like consistency. Touching it is like rubbing your hands on wet clay.

The bar calls for application post-showering or exfoliating, so I go with the former (that’s due to laziness, mind you). After towel-drying, I grab the bar and begin rubbing it over my legs. Because of the texture, it feels exotic and earthy rather than like your typical drugstore self-tanner. With just a few swipes my ghost-white calves are now coated in golden-brown bursts of color. From there, I do a little bit of blending until it appears even (bonus: I’m basically massaging my legs).

Which, West later tells me, is the point. “With this bar, you can easily see if you have enough product on your skin,” she says. “Just a couple of swipes will do it. It has a longer ‘play’ time, too, which is how long you can rub it in before it starts to go tacky. This and the addition of erthyrulose, which prevents streaking.” (Not a chemist? Erthyrulose essentially extends the tan and keeps your skin further hydrated.) Think of it as the choose your own adventure of summer beauty rituals.

 

Amazingly, my gams look several shades darker right away, which doesn’t happen when I use a cream—or even after laying out by the pool for an entire weekend. So it earns major points for ease of use. Also noticeably different? I don’t smell that signature fake tanning scent that comes with every single other product. As I move on to my arms and chest, I realize just how much easier it is to ensure I’m keeping each limb a similar shade of goddess gold. Creams, by comparison, are a gamble—since I don’t really see the color until at least an hour later (often four or more), I never know if my arms are going to be the same level of tan.

With just a few swipes my ghost-white calves are now coated in golden-brown bursts of color.

The other major upside is how my skin feels after: think supremely soft. That’s because the Ethique bar has ultra-nourishing kokum butter, jojoba, and olive oil. Those three, in combination with DHA (the active ingredient that bronzes your complexion), equals serious darkening power.

“That’s great because the more moisturized your skin is, the longer it’ll hold onto the tan,” says Sonia Keu, a green beauty expert who I check in with. With dry skin, she explains, you’re more likely to shed that bronze shade you worked so hard on getting streak-free in the first place. “Flaking and shedding will cause blotchiness in your self-tan, so moisturizing is key in order to preserve the color.”

So, is this bar the beauty world equivalent of the unicorn pool float or frosé (AKA warm-weather perfection)? While my skin was left looking tan, shiny, and nourished, it definitely won’t last for the entire #99daysofsummer. Just a couple of days later, I’m back to my ultra-white color again—so to stay bronze, you’d have to use the bar pretty frequently (which is bad news for those with more laid-back personal-care routines).

As for me, I’m going to stick on Team Bar for now (sorry, creams)—as someone who’s the opposite of talented at applying self-tanners, this one’s easy enough for my skillset.

For just a face boost, these are the top-rated natural bronzers at Sephora. And once you’ve got your (safe) tan on, here are tips for finding the perfect, super-flattering swimsuit