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Body Glows and Self-Tanners - what's the difference?

Explained: the similarities and differences between body glows and self-tanners

Author: Charlotte Kuchinsky June 20 2007

standing bikini girl with suntan

There are a variety of products now in the marketplace that guarantee they’ll give your skin a beautiful “glow”, “that sun kissed look,” or a natural “hint of a tan.” But how are these products different from self-tanners? The answer isn’t simple


There are many similarities between body glows and self-tanners. Both contain skin darkening products like dihydroxyacetone (DHA) that give the skin a “tanned” look. Both body glows and self-tanners are temporary. The artificial color will fade away and will be completely gone within days without further application.

Both products come in multiple shades for different skin tones. Most come in light, medium, dark, and deep or some combination (e.g., fair, normal, and dark). Both allow you to build color with each application and both rightfully boast the added benefit of evening out skin tones.

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Both body glows and self-tanners should be applied to clean, dry skin that has been well exfoliated. Otherwise, they will tend to skew dark on certain areas of the body like elbows, knees, ankles, fingers, and toes. They will also color the palms of your hands if you don’t wash immediately after application. I have found that wearing gloves or using a sponge to apply either product works well.


Body glows balance the tanning product, DHA, with additional moisturizers, organic botanicals, and/or nut butters that also hydrate and protect the skin. Vitamins and minerals are often added as well to further enrich the skin, leaving it soft and supple. Some self-tanners, on the other hand, dry out the skin, giving it an alligator-like appearance. Others flake easily, leaving behind an unpleasant-looking residue.

Body glows absorb more quickly than most self-tanners and leave less of a greasy feel on the skin. I also found that the scent of body glows tends to be lighter and less noticeable than a lot of self-tanners. In fact, many of them have a wonderful citrus or floral fragrance.

I personally feel that body glows give more color control to the individual. If you put self-tanner on too lightly, to avoid too much color too quickly, you may end up with uneven streaks. However, I discovered it was possible to put body glow on in a light even coat to obtain a nice, overall “glow”, just as advertised.

Self-tanners are slightly more expensive than most body glows; running anywhere from $5 to $200 or more for some of the more expensive spray-on tans. However, they also deliver a much deeper, richer looking tan than the light, sunny hint of color provided by body glows. Unsurprisingly you have to pay more to achieve that extra effect.

Problems to watch out for

There are brands of each product type that temporarily or permanently stain any clothing or fabrics they come in contact with. You should be sure to read the product boxes carefully to see if you have bought one of this type of product. If so, be sure to follow the directions exactly as laid out to avoid permanent damage to materials.

Both body glows and self-tanners must be well mixed before application in order to avoid uneven color application. And neither product should be applied to skin that is wet with water or sweat - even the best of them will streak under those conditions.

While both body glows and self-tanners say you should apply additional coats “every few hours” to deepen the color, the truth is that they tend to darken over time, so it may be best to wait until the product has finished processing before deciding if another application is necessary.

Since DHA degrades when exposed to air continuously, it is best to purchase new products every year. Old products will be much less effective and may very well skew the color of your skin more to a yellow tone.

Not all body glows and self-tanners contain sunscreen, so read packaging carefully if this is a feature that you need.

The verdict

I think both products have a place in a woman’s world and the decision of which to choose should be a personal one. I personally prefer to use self-tanners during the summer when I want a deeper, richer look to my skin, and body glows in the winter for just a hint of beautiful glow.

However, in the long run, it is a matter of personal preference - and isn’t it nice to have a choice?

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