The natural and organic segment of the cosmetics industry has grown in popularity over the last several years. Mainstream cosmetics are full of chemicals, preservatives and synthetic components. Although these are not inherently bad, long-term side effects are largely unknown and studies are inconclusive. Experts on one side of the controversy say that quantities are so low that side effects are unlikely and that the benefits outweigh any potential risks. Consumer advocates, on the other hand, say that any risk is too high, especially without long-term studies to rule them out.
It's important to note that natural ingredients are not always better and can cause their own side effects, including but not limited to skin irritation. Preservatives are often challenged by watchdog groups but greatly increase shelf life and reduce the chances of bacterial growth. If you're concerned, experts say that parabens (preservatives) and phthalates (chemical ingredients used as solvents in cosmetics and to create a film on skin, moisturize it and help other ingredients penetrate it) are the ones to avoid.
Like all other sunless-tanning products, natural self tanners rely on the same ingredients to bronze the skin, namely dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose. Both of these ingredients are derived from sugar and react with the outermost layer of skin to create a bronzed appearance. Color produced from DHA generally starts to appear within two to six hours, while erythrulose takes approximately two to three days. Erythrulose is commonly found in gradual self tanners.
Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunless Tanner (*Est. $11 for 4 oz.) is a paraben- and phthalate-free self tanner that has many natural and organic components. The fact that Alba Botanica doesn't participate in animal testing makes it a favorite among consumer watchdog groups and environmentalists. TheDailySupplement.com, a group of bloggers that tests and rates natural products and herbal supplements, gives it a thumbs-up for avoiding harsh chemicals and using certified organic and natural ingredients. Alba self tanner contains aloe vera, chamomile, gingko biloba and green tea. Editors say that it is easy to apply and produces even color.
Dianna Baros, author of TheBudgetBabe.com, says she likes the subtle color that Very Emollient Sunless Tanner produces but wishes that it didn't take so long to develop. The manufacturer states that it takes three hours, but Baros says that her tan took a full 24 hours to develop. The sunless tanner comes in one shade, but it can be reapplied for more intense color.
Neither Nature's Gate Glow Lotion (*Est. $13 for 16 oz.) nor Nature's Gate Sunless Tanner (*Est. $9 for 4 oz.) are reviewed as often as other self tanners but both contain natural ingredients and are paraben-free. Glow Lotion is a gradual tanner that uses small amounts of DHA. Editors at Allure magazine say that it "gets you a really nice bronze color in about two to three days." Nature's Gate Sunless Tanner, on the other hand, provides an instant tan.
Paula Begoun, who defends the use of synthetic ingredients in cosmetics and skin care products, gives Alba Botanica Self Tanner a high rating. She praises the formula for its inclusion of several emollient, or moisturizing, plant oils and antioxidants, which make it more than just a sunless tanner. Users at Amazon.com agree that the formula is very moisturizing, and many say that it smells good, too -- although there is still a faint hint of self-tanning odor.
Allure Editors also praise Nature's Gate Glow Lotion because it doesn't contain any trace of the "noxious" odor typically associated with sunless tanners. Likewise, editors at Health magazine say the natural ingredients in Nature's Gate Sunless Tanner give it a refreshing raspberry scent. The antioxidants and olive oil it contains also leave skin feeling moisturized, say editors.
Most natural sunless tanners have lotion-based formulas and are loaded with emollient ingredients. While all of these are good for the skin, they add to up to longer drying times. Experts recommend waiting at least 30 minutes before getting dressed when using any lotion-based sunless tanner. Doing so will prevent staining on clothes and/or sheets.
Due its use of natural and certified organic ingredients as well as the even color it produces, we chose Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunless Tanner as our best reviewed natural self tanner.