These days, fake tan comes in a variety of different forms — mousse, lotion, gel, spray, oil you name it. Well, now there's a new type of self-tanner on the market to acquaint yourself with: fake tan serums, a new crop of hybrid skin care/self-tan formulas that are quickly turning the tanning world on its head. These hue-boosting serums feature skin-care's most potent ingredients — actives like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and peptides — as well as the self-tanning agent dihydroxyacetone, a combination that results in a more natural-looking tan without a breakout or clogged pore in sight.
Fake-tan formulas have come a long way from the stinky, moisture-sucking formulas of old. We now have newer, more advanced formulas that promise fewer streaks, very little smell, and the perfect postholiday glow. Yet, some of these formulas can still have some negative effects on your skin, especially when it comes to self-tanning your face — with some consumers experiencing issues like blocked pores, spots, sensitivity, and dryness.
"There is no doubt that for some people, incorporating a facial self-tan into a skin-care routine can be troublesome, which is why it's so important to find a formulation that works for your own individual skin type," says Dr Emma Wedgeworth, dermatologist at London's Dr Sam Bunting Clinic. "I find that self-tan can dry sensitive skins out, whilst oily skins may be more prone to breakouts. As with all skin-care products, the formulation of the product is key, so for sensitive skin, a well-formulated self-tan serum may be a game changer. Some may even be light enough to add to your existing moisturisers, which means you know that the base of the product already works well with your skin," she added.
I was first introduced to a self-tan serum after trying Tan-Luxe's sell-out Glow Hyaluronic formula last year. Full disclaimer: I've never been a massive fan of fake tan. I hated the smell, and most products I tried clogged my pores for days after. This one, however, was different. Utilising hyaluronic acid — the moisture magnet known for its hydrating properties — Tan-Luxe's serum was a game changer for me. It left my skin hydrated and with a subtle bronze colour that made my complexion look healthy and glowy.
"The ethos behind all Tan-Luxe products is that they start life out as skin-care products; all that hyaluronic, superfood goodness is our base formulation," Mark Elrick, founder of Tan-Luxe, tells POPSUGAR. "We then work backwards from this to incorporate the tanning actives once we have a better idea of the benefits we want this product to deliver to the user." In terms of the Glow Serum, for example, Elrick knew he wanted a serum that could stand on its own as a great hydrator — the fake tan was an added bonus. "Serums are a texture we're already familiar with in the world of skin care, so application is intuitively simple [for people] — it's just a case of applying product directly to skin as you would normally."
So, how exactly does a self-tan serum formula compare to the more traditional self-tan? "Self-tans were often available as lotions or creams, which are a stable mixture of oils and water called an emulsion," explains cosmetic chemist, Steven Alain Ko. "These newer serums are much simpler formulations," a fact that results in lighter textures, better ingredients, and a product that can slot seamlessly into your existing skin-care routine. "Regardless of whether it's cream or serum, all of the formulas use the self-tanning agent dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a carbohydrate that reacts with components in our skin to create the tan colour," says Ko, adding that the majority of self-tan serums available right now all have similar bases, including "the tanning agent (dihydroxyacetone, and in some cases erythrulose), a humectant (propanediol or glycerin), and a film former (hydroxyethyl cellulose or xanthan gum)."
What really sets self-tan serums apart from traditional facial self-tan formulas, however, is that they're packed with powerful active ingredients, designed to penetrate faster into the skin. Dr Wedgeworth, who advocates using self-tan to avoid harmful UV exposure, says: "my favourite ingredients to include in self-tan formulations are glycerin and shea butter to ensure hydration of the skin." The ingredients in self-tan serum formulas work in tandem with your skin and routine, offering a host of skin-care benefits from hydration, smoothing, plumping, brightening, and even minimising oil production. Keep reading for some of the best formulas to try right now.