There are two really common types of self-tanner that many people use, and those are instant and gradual tans. The names sort of giveaway how they work, but there are more differences between gradual and instant self-tanners than you might think.
So what’s the difference between gradual self-tanners and instant or conventional self-tanners? Gradual self-tanners work gradually, meaning that you have to apply the product for a couple of days before seeing results. This allows you to control the level of tan. Instant tans work within a few hours and give you a dark tan after the first use.
In this brief article, I want to talk about what those differences are, as well as talk about the pros and cons of each. I’ll also cover situations when you might want to use one or the other, and finish off by sharing with you my favorite instant and gradual self-tanners.
First, let’s talk about the differences.
Difference Between Instant And Gradual Self Tanners
First of all, both types of products darken the skin in essentially the same way. Just about all sunless tanning products use an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. DHA is a type of sugar that can be created synthetically, or harvested naturally from sugar cane or sugar beets. When DHA comes in contact with the amino acids on your skin, it chemically reacts forming pigment. This pigment sticks to your dead skin cells giving you that beautiful, natural looking tan.
The main difference between instant and gradual self-tanners is how much DHA the product contains, and what other ingredients it contains. Instant self-tanners are meant to give you some great color very quickly, sometimes in as few as a few hours. Gradual self-tanners develop color more slowly but are easier to maintain in the long run.
Gradual self-tanners often come in the form of a daily moisturizer, making it extremely simple to maintain color. Instant self-tanners are perfect for a wedding, party, or other events, where you just want to look great for a single night. Instant self-tanners are harder to maintain in the long run, as re-application can be tricky.
The bottom line is, if you’re looking for a quick tan, go with instant self-tanner; if you want a color that you can easily maintain for a long time, stick to gradual self-tanners.
Alright, now that we understand the basic differences, let’s dive a bit deeper into the pros and cons of each.
Benefits Of Instant Self Tanners
The primary benefit of instant self-tanner is how fast it develops. If you don’t have time to wait overnight for your tan to fully develop, it’s great to have a quality instant self-tanner on hand.
Typically instant tanners develop completely anywhere between 1 and 8 hours, depending on the formula. Many of them are specifically designed so that the longer you leave them on, the darker the color develops.
Many instant tanners also contain a guide color, but not all of them. A guide color is a form of bronzer (essentially makeup) that give your skin an instant color, which helps you to know where the product has been applied, and in what thickness. This bronzer is not permanent, and will simply wipe or wash away easily.
More instant self-tanners contain bronzer, than gradual self-tanners do, because the product develops much quicker, so mistakes are more noticeable. However, not all self-tanners contain a guide color, so you’ll want to look and know ahead of time.
Personally, I don’t like guide color, as it can easily rub off on clothes and be a bit messy. However, if you’re inexperienced in applying sunless tanning products then you’ll probably want to start with an easier product that does contain this guide.
My absolute favorite instant self-tanner has to be the St. Tropez Express Self-Tanning Mousse that you can pick up on Amazon.
First of all, this stuff works fast. You can get a light tan in an hour, a medium tan in 2 hours, and a dark tan in just 3 hours. That is fast for any instant self-tanning product.
It’s a mousse so it dries really fast, and it goes on completely streak-free with no smell at all. It does come with a slightly tinted guide color, so it’s super easy to make sure you get an even application. If you want to really make sure you get it applied perfectly, consider picking up an applicator mitt.
Overall I just think this is the absolute best instant self-tanner on the market right now, so give it a try.
Benefits Of Gradual Self Tanners
Gradual self-tanners are basically just what they sound like. They gradually darken your skin with lower amounts of DHA. These types of products are perfect if you’re looking to maintain a consistent shade all summer (or winter) long. They typically come in the form of lotions, many of them actually daily moisturizers.
You typically apply the product every day until you’ve reached the shade you want, and then maintain that color by applying it every other day. Although some gradual self-tanners have a guide color, the vast majority do not. This is partly because it’s a daily-use product, and it makes less sense to have a guide. It’s also partly because gradual self-tanners are less risky since they develop the color much slower.
Gradual self-tanners work best if you apply them right before bed, sleep with them on overnight, and then shower in the morning. After you’ve hopped out of the shower, be sure to apply moisturizer to keep your skin well moisturized (this is important for any sunless tanning product).
My Favorite Gradual Self-Tanning Product
I absolutely love Bondi Sands Gradual Self Tanning Milk.
It’s fairly inexpensive. But more importantly, it’s just really easy to use and maintain color with. You simply apply it more often for a darker color, and less often if you’re looking to just have a hint of a tan.
It’s a lotion, but it dries in as little as 5 minutes, making it easy to use. It has a pleasing smell and goes on completely streak-free.
Do your normal shower and exfoliation routine. Then apply the moisturizing self0-tanner over your entire body, being sure to apply less to areas like your knees and elbows. When you’re done, wash your hands (unless you used a mitt) and you’re good to go!
If you’re looking for a simple to use gradual self-tanner, this is the one to try.
Ultimately instant self-tanners, and gradual sunless tanning products both of their purpose. If you’re looking to add color more quickly for an event, go with instant; if you’re looking for a routine that lasts, go with gradual.
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