Self-tanner is terrifying enough without the added potential for breakouts, clogged pores, and other weird skin stuff—as in, there’s a very real chance you could end up both streaky in the face and riddled with a series of bumps and blackheads you definitely didn’t have before. Shit is dicey.
Most self-tanning formulas, particularly for the face, do not cater to sensitive, acne-prone skin types. But interestingly enough, dihydroxyacetone (or DHA), the active ingredient in all self-tanners, is not the issue here. “[DHA] is derived from sugar, which works by staining the skin,” explains dermatologist Dr. David E. Bank.
And in staining the skin, it’s only the very top surface layer that’s affected, so it doesn’t even get the opportunity to penetrate any deeper. It’s everything else that’s mixed in there with it: Think harsh alcohols, vegetable oils, and synthetic fragrances, so like, nothing you’d ever want to put on your face. But fake tanning is definitely preferable to the real deal—as Dr. Bank says, “The best tan isn’t a natural tan.”
The solution is to track down formulas that are non-comedogenic, which means they’re devoid of the “bad” oils that won’t burrow deep into your pores or incite a strange rash on only one cheek (been there), and always check the ingredients: Fragrance too high on the list is no bueno. And, as much as we hate to say it, this is one thing you might want to skip the drugstore option on. Low prices tend to beget cheap formulas here, so maybe don’t risk it?