Yes, Women of Color Can Fake Tan, Too

But where is the inclusivity when it comes to the tanning industry?

When we consider the beauty industry in its entirety, we have to admit that it’s come a long way in regard to inclusivity and shade ranges. Looking at foundation options as a woman of color, we are now able to shop with a certain level of confidence as opposed to years prior (thank you, Rihanna and Fenty Beauty, for setting that bar high). We’re also able to source afro-specialist salons and stylists to care for and style our hair, but when it comes to self-tanning, there is still a fair amount of unspoken mystery.

Despite the colorism that still exists within the Black community, as a woman of color, I love to (safely) tan for a multitude of reasons—to even out my skin tone, to diminish any dullness, and to create a bronzed, radiant finish. So why, as a Black woman, is tanning still seen as a cultural and social taboo?

The Traditional Tanning Industry

According to reports, the self-tanning market was valued at $1.47 billion in 2018 and is projected to ascend at a compound annual growth rate of 5.9 percent between 2019 and 2025. Clearly, I’m not the only one who is a fan of a bronzed finish; however, if you take a deep dive into the industry’s marketing and representation, some brands still fall short when taking all skin tones into consideration.

One would hope, in the wake of Black Lives Matter and the #pulluporshutup campaign, that brands would be more aware of this disparity. While scrolling through numerous brands’ social media outlets, there are still plenty of traditional marketing strategies in play with very few women of color (including dark-skinned women) being represented.

According to Mark Elrick, founder of Tan Luxe, there is “complacency and a lack of representation from the ground up across the beauty industry as a whole. It’s not something that happens overnight. This sustained change is now something that every brand needs to be looking for and acting on.” As Black consumers, we all see who the majority of self-tan products are marketed towards, with many touting “dark to deep” results for fair skin. So where do “dark”-skinned women fit in?

Why Is the Market White-Focused?

As Amanda Harrington, A-list tanning consultant to celebrities such as Dua Lipa and Jennifer Aniston, points out, “The tanning market is targeted towards Caucasian skin because most brands use the color guides ‘light/medium/dark’ when referring to the different shades in their ranges, rather than focusing on undertone.” If there was more understanding around skin undertone, that would mean self-tanning technology could focus less on making the skin as dark as possible (with little nuance of color) and instead offer more options for increased radiance and a natural-looking bronzed effect across the spectrum of skin hues.

Brands that focus solely on achieving a darker pigment for fairer skin tones, regardless of undertones, fail to offer products that work on Black and brown skin—which result in an orange or grey tint when applied. “It’s all about the base colors of the tints, rather than just increasing the percentage of DHA (tanning agent) to make you the darkest possible color,” says Harrinton. “It’s not about taking women three shades darker—it’s about adding warmth, emphasizing and enriching what you already have, and giving you a glow.”

Elrick elaborates: “We’ve never really bought into the transformational element of tanning as a brand, [with] intense before-and-after images. We believe that self-tan should be about enhancing and enriching your own natural skin tone with customizable, tailor-made formulations. We don’t want to mask or cover—it’s about [looking] glowy and feeling good.”

Tanning & the Black Community

When it comes to tanning as a woman of color, the Black community can be notorious for shaming anyone who enjoys using self-tan products. But what many fail to understand—and what the mass market often misses—is that despite having “black” skin, our skin tone isn’t even. For many men and women of color, we tan in order to even out our complexions, eradicate any areas of greyness or ashiness, as well as target any pigmentation issues and create a luminous glow. Tanning expert and founder of his eponymous tanning product line James Read shares that “beauty is for everyone, and it’s important as a world [that] we recognize this. As a brand founder, I have always created products for all—a product that enhances anyone’s natural beauty and gives everyone that added confidence.”

Today’s Tanning Innovations

As women of color, we no longer have to be afraid of self-tanners, as there are more and more options on the market that are suitable for darker skin tones. There’s also the concept of “transparent tanning,” a term coined by the popular brand Tan Luxe, which doesn’t utilize the color guide that many traditional tanning brands adhere to (despite the limitations these synthetic dyes have when it comes to Black and brown skin).

“These synthetic dyes have been shown to break down tanning actives and cause streaking, uneven fading, clogged pores, and skin dehydration,” says Elrick. “I’d recommend to anyone trying self-tanning to steer clear of a color guide format [in order to achieve] results that are cleaner in both formulation and application.” Approaching tanning with a skin-first mindset—as opposed to an outdated color guide—is one way in which the industry can be inclusive to all.

And for anyone new to the self-tanning process, A-list tanner Read has a few pointers to ensure your application is as seamless and natural-looking as possible. “Remember the golden rules before tanning: exfoliate, wax, and shave. After you have tanned, moisturize daily to help prolong your [color]. With the face, go for a hydrating product or gradual tan—this will add extra warmth and evens out the skin tone.”

Shop product recommendations from the experts:

James Read Sleep Mask Tan Face

James Read: “[This is] super hydrating and gives a nice glow. I highly recommend this for women of color. Water self-tans are great as they are quick, hydrating, and easy to apply.”


Amanda Harrington Body Mousse

Amanda Harrington: A non-drip, lightweight, blendable soufflé that is infused with hyaluronic acid and aloe vera to deeply hydrate, Coenzyme Q10 to firm, and green tea extract to revive tired skin. “I formulate my range by skin tone. Our tints work with the natural undertones of your skin and reflect the color your skin would naturally turn in the sun.”


James Read H2O Tan Drops Face

James Read: “Tanning drops are great as they allow you to add an extra radiance to your skin while also fitting into your beauty regime. They also contain encapsulated vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to brighten and hydrate.”


Amanda Harrington The Brush On Beauty Edit

Amanda Harrington: “I find the best way to enrich a glow is using tanning brushes. For anyone nervous about using tan, these will ensure a streak-free, seamless finish! The brushes [help] to sculpt, buff, and contour color onto the skin.”


Tan-luxe Super Glow Body Hyaluronic Self-tan Serum

Mark Elrick: “The idea behind Super Glow is that we’ve taken everything you love about your skin-care regime and supercharged it with self-tanner. It’s the best of both worlds!”

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