Now That I've Tried Tanning Water, I'm Never Using Another Self-Tan Product

I am naturally pale, so I am slathering on SPF 50 all over my body year-round, the summer especially. While sunscreen is vital for everybody, it's particularly important if your natural skin tone veers vampiric like mine. I like to fake the look of having seen the sun, though, so I also have a self-tanning ritual on Thursday nights where I coat my entire body in self-tanner. Unfortunately, I'm bad at self-tanning, so while I've improved over the years, I nearly always end up with unsightly streaks or blotches. 

I've tried almost every self-tanner formula on the market—mousses, gels, gradual lotions, and more—to varying degrees of success. One formula I didn't try until recently, though, is tanning water. Now that I've started using tanning water, I'm hooked. My tans look more even, it's incredibly easy to use, and tanning waters give me a more natural-looking glow than other self-tanners I've tried—no streaks or orange blotches included.


(Image credit: @michellerosedrumm)

What is tanning water?

"A tanning water is a self-tanner in which the tanning agent known as DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is suspended in water, making the self-tan formula clear, so there is nothing to transfer onto clothing or bedsheets,” says Sophie Evans, a St.Tropez skin finishing expert and celebrity tanner. "Plus, the water base makes the formula incredibly hydrating to the skin.”


(Image credit: @bettinalooney )

Isle of Paradise founder Jules Von Hep agrees, noting that tanning waters are lightweight enough to spray on under makeup or before going to work in the morning since they sink in instantly. These formulas make tanning at home feel effortless. When shopping for tanning water, look for a formula enhanced with skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, or other anti-aging ingredients, and steer clear of parabens, phthalates, and sulfates.

How do you use tanning water?


(Image credit: @nitsanraiter)

"Spray your skin liberally,” says Von Hep. "Your skin should be saturated once finished. Once applied, take an applicator mitt and sweep the product all over the skin to blend, remembering to do under the arms and all over your legs.”

According to Evans, working in sections is absolutely crucial when it comes to tanning waters since there’s no guide color to help you remember where you sprayed the product. "For example, the knee to the ankle would be one section, then the thigh would be a different section,” she says. "If you are unsure if you have covered an area, simply go over the area again. It will not negatively affect the development, as the skin can only absorb a certain amount of product in one application.” She notes that you can never apply too much tan but that you can apply too little, leading to streaks and uneven tone. 

If you’re applying tanning water to your face, Von Hep encourages misting your skin as you do when using a face mist or toner. "For hands and feet, run the mitt over those areas and lightly apply using the residue product left on the mitt,” he says. Also, if you don’t have a mitt, don’t worry—you can apply using your hands. Just make sure you wash them thoroughly after, taking care to scrub between your fingers. 

Keep reading for the best self-tanning waters to try, including picks from Evans and Von Hep.

Best Overall Tanning Water: Tan Luxe Hydrating Self-Tan Water


(Image credit: @ktberohn)

This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated. 

Associate Beauty Editor

Katie Berohn is the associate beauty editor at Who What Wear. Previously, she worked as the beauty assistant for Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Prevention magazines, all part of the Hearst Lifestyle Group. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a major in journalism and minor in technology, arts, and media, and earned her master's degree at NYU's graduate program for magazine journalism. In addition, Katie has held editorial internships at Denver Life magazine, Yoga Journal, and Cosmopolitan; a digital editorial internship at New York magazine's The Cut; a social good fellowship at Mashable; and a freelance role at HelloGiggles. When she's not obsessing over the latest skincare launch or continuing her journey to smell every perfume on the planet, Katie can be found taking a hot yoga class, trying everything on the menu at New York's newest restaurant, or hanging out at a trendy wine bar with her friends.